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EU will 'closely monitor' French deficit after Macron measures

AFP , Tuesday 11 Dec 2018

The European Commission on Tuesday said Brussels will keep close watch over France's new spending plans, a day after President Emmanuel Macron unveiled new measures to quell violent protests.

But the Commission, the European Union's executiuve arm, said it will give itself until the spring to analyse the French budget as concerns increase it may breach EU rules.

"The European Commission will closely monitor the impact of the announcements made by President Macron on the French deficit and any financing arrangements," the Commission's economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici told AFP.

"We are in constant contact with the French authorities," added Moscovici, who was attending a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

But France has some breathing room as the Commission's spokesman Margaritis Schinas said it will follow "well-established rules" on all member country budgets, including France's.

"The fiscal impact of the final budget that emerges from the parliamentary process will be assessed in the spring when we publish our economic" forecasts, Schinas told reporters in Brussels.

The Commission usually publishes at the start of May its economic forecasts for all EU countries, covering growth, debt and public deficits.

Meeting the EU's three percent deficit limit has been a centrepiece of Macron's European strategy in order to win the trust of powerful Berlin and its backing for EU reforms.

Before the "yellow vests" protests, the 2019 public deficit was expected to reach 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), just below the threshold.

Among the potentially costly measures Macron announced on Monday was a 100 euro ($113) monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year paid for by the government, not employers.

The 40-year-old centrist also announced he would roll back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners introduced by his government.

And he called on all businesses "that can afford it" to give employees a one-off "end of year bonus" which would be tax free.

The EU rules on public spending are "binding for everybody that is clear," said senior German MEP Manfred Weber, when asked by reporters about France's new expenditure.

But he added that "what we should not do as the European Union is intervene in domestic policies so when a government in Italy is presenting its budget it is an Italian budget and in France it is the same."

Italy's budget for 2019 was the first in history to be rejected by Brussels for breaking bloc rules on spending.

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