EU ministers fail to agree on energy projects

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EU member states fail to arrive a conclusion on how to fund a key economic stimulus measure.

BRUSSELS – EU member states failed to agree Monday on how to fund a key economic stimulus measure which would put EUR 3.75 billion of community money into energy projects.

"We aren't blocking it but there is a need for a discussion," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts.

In late 2008, the European Commission proposed taking EUR five billion in total for energy and hi-tech projects as part of an economic relaunch plan.

The cash was to be found from unused EU budget finding for 2008. However the deadline for using those funds passed without agreement.

Germany and Austria favour considering the projects involved on a case-by-case basis for funding.

In order to overcome the reticence, the commission rejigged its plans, giving more to energy security measures, but this failed to convince several European Union nations.

Spanish Foreign Secretary Diego Lopez Garrido, attending Monday's Brussels meeting, expressed his country's misgivings.

"We are not in complete agreement with the latest version," and "we hope it will be modified," he told reporters.

Spain is contesting the geographical balance of the projects earmarked for financing, as are Portugal and "to a certain extent" Greece and Bulgaria, a European diplomat said.

A British diplomat said there should be debate on funding the plans over the next three years, out of the EU's 2009, 2010 and 2011 budgets.

Diplomats said that a deal would be sought ahead of an EU summit in Brussels on 19 March.

Another option would be to set up a separate funding mechanism, but there was little appetite for extra funding while Europe is in recession.

Despite the differences "the discussion (Monday) was certainly more consensual" than in previous debates in recent weeks, one diplomat said.

EU heads of state and government are also expected to return to the subject during an informal summit in the Belgian capital on Sunday dedicated to the financial and economic crises.

AFP / Expatica

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