France's Moscovici vows to uphold EU budget rules

2nd October 2014, Comments 0 comments

France's Pierre Moscovici, nominated to be the EU's next economic affairs commissioner, vowed on Thursday to uphold budget rules as he went before lawmakers wary of his track record of overspending as French finance minister.

In a confirmation hearing that at times resembled a university masterclass, Moscovici faced a harsh grilling a day after his successor in Paris announced that France will break EU deficit rules until 2017.

"I am French and proud to be so," an unruffled Moscovici told a European Parliament committee after one of a barrage of tough questions on his track record as minister.

"As commissioner, I will defend the rules, all the rules and as with all rules there is the past and the future," he said.

"And for the future, my compass will be simple: rules and only the rules, all of them."

Moscovici, who was in charge of public finances in Paris until April, is seeking to take over the job from the financially orthodox Olli Rehn, the determined defender of tight budgets and tough reforms who enjoyed the firm backing of Berlin.

The choice of Moscovici by incoming commission chief Jean-Claude Junker to head the Economic Affairs Commission last month was almost immediately met with harsh criticism, especially by Germany.

But Moscovici repeatedly dismissed contentions that he was unfit for the job, and defended his years as minister despite budgets that remained wide off the EU mandate.

"France did not break the rules, everything done was accepted by the European Commission due to the exceptional circumstances that are accounted for in the treaties," Moscovovi said.

Moscovici said that as minister for two years he cut deficits in France, even though French public over-spending stayed significantly above the EU limit of three percent of gross domestic product.

"When I arrived, the deficit was headed towards 5.5 percent, and in my last budget as minister, it was down to 4.1 percent," he said.

However, he added: "I'm not here to be a defender of France or its prosecutor."

European conservatives are up in arms that a Socialist with such a track record could take the reins of the critical post, especially with the continent's economy in the doldrums.

Before the hearing, French European MP Alain Lamassoure said that Moscovici would "suffer badly" in the job, "because to gain credibility he will have to show particular severity with his country of origin."

After more than three hours of testimony, the biggest EU parliament party, the centre-right EPP, remained unimpressed.

"Moscovici is hardly credible. He did not convince his own government to ensure compliance with the Stability Pact and to enforce deep economic reforms. How will he be able to convince 28 Member States?" said Burkhard Balz, spokesman for the party's group.

© 2014 AFP

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