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Fifteen judges will decide the future of the French budget

Brussels decides to seize the European Court of Justice to rule on the absence of an excessive deficit procedure against France and Germany

(Archives B2) The European Commission will have taken it up, several times, before plunging. She dithered, weighed, postponed her decision. Not all commissioners agreed. The Spaniard Pedro Solbes and the Italian Romano Prodi, President of the Commission were in favor. The German Gunther Verheugen or the French Michel Barnier, rather against. Then, this Tuesday afternoon, in Strasbourg, it finally decided, without a vote but also as reported by a commissioner " without consensual decision ».

Yes, the European Commission will go to Luxembourg, the seat of the European Court of Justice. But a bit like the Emperor of Germany, Henry IV, went to Canossa, with regret, constrained and forced... by his destiny! By the Treaties, the Commission is in fact responsible for the mission which is both the noblest and the most thankless: that of ensuring compliance with Community rules. And these are formal. There is a procedure for member states which do not respect the stability pact, the famous Maastricht criteria, particularly in terms of public deficit. This procedure must be followed. States cannot invent another (see box).

By refusing, at the end of November, to sue France and Germany for their budgetary slippage, the Fifteen have also created a serious precedent. The European Parliament and several member states violently protested. The Fifteen judges will have to rule not directly on the point of knowing whether France and Germany have violated the stability pact but to assess whether the Council of Ministers of the Fifteen had full latitude, or not, to interpret the criteria of Maastricht as he sees fit. Tricky question…

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde (in Brussels)
Published in France-Soir, January 2004

And now…

For Gerassimos Thomas, spokesperson for the Commission, “ the case could be completed between three and six months ". A fairly optimistic statement according to our information. On the one hand, several steps are necessary before a judgment: publication of the request in the official journal, exchanges of written briefs, oral pleading, conclusions of the advocate general. Furthermore, any Member State and any Community institution can intervene in the proceedings; which slows down the procedure even more. The decision could therefore take many months or years. The French budget is not yet saved! The Commission should, in fact, re-examine it at its meeting on January 28. And the subject could be on the agenda of the Ministers of Economy and Finance on February 10. Francis Mer will still have to fight…

What prompted Brussels to act

For the legal service of the Commission, whose opinion we were able to read, the text in favor of the budgetary slippage of France and Germany is illegal for a fundamental reason. " The Council [of Ministers] did not adopt the formal instrument recommended by the Commission but instead adopted an atypical text which is not provided for by the Treaty and is contrary to [it] ". In fact, everything is a matter of words and time. The Council "decide" is not equivalent to the Council " peut » decide. For the Commission's legal experts, such as the Council of Ministers " does not dispute the valuation [of the deficit], he must be considered to have waived his discretion ". He must then adopt a decision, and therefore sanctions. Who said: the devil is in the details?


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).