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27/02 – Commission’s leniency sparks both relief and shame in France, irritation in EU

Comments continue to flourish in European media, especially in France, about the new deadline extension granted by the European Commission to France to meet the 3% deficit target.

Le Monde’s editorial is quite critical and stresses the double irony of this announcement. Commissioner Pierre Moscovici is asking for more reforms, while his own reforms were not that ambitious when he was a minister. The Commission grants more time to France, while others such as Portugal, Spain and Ireland have made sacrifices to meet the demands; therefore, the Commission’s decision is deemed both lenient and severe.

In Les Echos’s editorial, Dominique Seux is pretty much on the same page as he writes that the two-year deadline extension granted by Brussels sounds like a sweet “political victory,” but is also “a true humiliation” for Paris. “No reason to be proud,” adds Mr Seux, who says that France would be better off keeping a low profile on economic matters.

In L’Opinion’s editorial, Nicolas Beytout writes that this is not good news, but “one more step towards our European decline.” The fact of being always behind deficit-reduction schedules, reneging on our commitments and asking for Brussels’s leniency is not exactly being the master of our own destiny. We now have to choose between two paths: that of Greece’s lack of efforts or that of Germany’s discipline. France will probably choose a middle way, but the result will be ever more loss of sovereignty.

In an interview with L’Opinion, MEP Jean Arthuis stresses that the EC has never managed to slap sanctions on countries with excessive deficit, because of the “mutual indulgence” within the Eurogroup. “All in all, the real sanction is the loss of influence of the country concerned,” he says, warning that France is increasingly marginalised on the EU stage. He is sceptical that France will meet the 3% target in 2017 and says it is urgent to equip the euro area with a real government and a full-time president with a specific profile.

Commissioner Günther Oettinger defends in an interview with FAZ the new deadline extension for France, as he states that the conditions for this extension are very strict. Having to improve the budget plans this year is no small matter, explains Mr Oettinger. Yet, MEP Herbert Reul criticises the decision of the EC as a “signal of weakness.” He considers it disappointing that the EC is not stricter with France. Deutsche Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann also criticised the Commission, and stated that the flexible implementation of the EU fiscal regulations for France raises concerns, commenting that it looks like a political bargain.

According to an analysis in Die Presse, EC President Juncker showing leniency can be interpreted and criticised as preferential treatment of the big EU member states at the expense of the smaller ones. However, one could also speak of realism: the EU currently has no need at all for a dispute with France in light of the struggles with Greece, the war in neighbouring state Ukraine and the turmoils in the Middle East. ©europeanunion2015

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