Finance ministers reject Chirac plea

The EU’s Stability Pact is like the Ten Commandments – they all had to be adhered to, said Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy in Brussels.

He and the rest of Europe's ministers refused to heed a call from French President Jacques Chirac to temporarily relax the rules on national budget spending. Mr McCreevy said if France breached the rules the full procedure should be followed which includes heavy fines of up to several billion euro.

Under the pact countries must keep their budget deficit below 3% of GDP at least but France has defied the rules and cut taxes even though this will increase its deficit this year and next.

All the ministers, including Germany's Hans Eichel that has also exceeded the deficit limit, said they will work to keep it below 3% next year and were not pushing for it to be relaxed.

The Italians earlier in the year strongly hinted they would also and breach the limit. But finance minister, Giulio Tremonti who chaired yesterday's meeting, said they will introduce new laws to ensure their deficit is just 1.8% next year.

Mr McCreevy said he had tried to have changes made to the pact in the past but without success. "Almost all member states are under pressure regarding their public finances but we have to have rules when we have a single currency," he said.

The ministers also discussed two plans before it designed to boost Europe's economy. The first from the Italian presidency that concentrates on transport infrastructure and one from the commission with emphasis on spending on research and development.

The roads from Rosslare and Cork to Dublin and Belfast could benefit from funding if the plans are agreed.

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