HIGHLIGHTS-European Union finance ministers' gathering

Fri May 21, 2010 1:29pm EDT

(Adds Lagarde quotes)

BRUSSELS May 21 (Reuters) - EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy convened the first meeting on Friday of a "taskforce" of EU finance ministers to discuss budget consolidation and economic governance in the European Union.

Following are comments by ministers and other officials ahead of the gathering.

FRENCH ECONOMY CHRISTINE LAGARDE

"We discussed the issue of ... Strengthening the muscles to the growth and stability pact. We discussed the issue of narrowing the competitive gap between countries. Clearly, we discussed the issue of sanctions and all of that is work in progress.

"We will continue to focus on what we can achieve in the short-term because it's really what is guiding us at the moment is being pragmatic.

"My proposal was very simple. Forget about the treaty in many ways. We are not closed minded or against any such change but what we are saying today is what are the deliverables that we can produce. It's more a timing issue rather than treaty change or no treaty change. Let's focus on what is deliverable quickly."

LUXEMBOURG FINANCE MINISTER LUC FRIEDEN

"The euro remains a strong currency because of the political

committment behind it."

GERMAN FINANCE MINISTER WOLFGANG SCHAEUBLE

"(In the future) we will discuss even issues which may require an amendment of the (EU) treaties.

"First, though, we will do what we can do without treaty changes and then examine the options."

EU COUNCIL PRESIDENT HERMAN VAN ROMPUY

On orderly default procedure proposal:

"Let's be very concerete and precise, the ad-hoc mechanism that we have agreed to support Greece and to ensure the stability of the euro area as a whole does not include any provisions for debt restructuring. Crisis management is part of the mandate of the taskforce.

It is only in these long-term contexts, not for today, not in the framework of the Greek mechanism, or in the framework of the 750 billion euro package, it is only in a long-term context that one member country considered that if a permanent crisis resolution framework were to be developed in the future for the euro area, consideration should be given to a procedure for orderly state insolvencies. In the short-term, nobody proposed that kind of scheme."

"This is only the start of the process... But there was a strong political will among the European Union finance ministers to move forwards on the EU's budget rules.

"Everybody agreed that we must strengthen rules on the stability and growth pact.

"We need to find means to reduce the divergence of competitiveness between the member states. This is neccessary to reach a more even economic development within the European Union.

"We need to have an effective crisis mechanism in order to be able to deal with problems such as those of today in the euro zone. All ministers agreed on that.

"We need to strengthen the economic governance in instititional terms in other to be able to act quicker and in more cordinated and more efficient manner.

"On a basis of all these (proposals from members states and EU executive) we will work on a comprehensive agreement. Before the summit, the task force will meet twice more preferently, work will be groups of sherpas. We will present a progress report to the European Council of June 17.

"Our final agreement should result in a stronger economic cohesion within the Union.

"We discussed sanctions and I can say that one of the conclusions of our debate is that it is very clear that there is a broad consensus on the business of having financial sanctions and non-financial sanctions. I was not surprised, but I was pleased that everyone was ready to go ahead with a strong stability and growth pact... and if we need, to go ahead with new sanctions that are not provided for in the stability and growth pact."

POLISH FINANCE MINISTER JACEK ROSTOWSKI

"Many countries underlined that in the future in the context of the stability pact, we will need more emphasis on debt not just deficits.

"It is key that the new rules do not create a deeper gap between the members of the euro zone and the rest of the EU."

BRITISH CHANCELLOR GEORGE OSBORNE

"National parliaments are sovereign and have to be told first about budget plans.

"When it comes to national budgets, the first people that need to be told are the elected members of the House of Commons, and there's absolutely no way that is going to change.

"At the same time, we support the need for greater budget coordination in the European Union."

BELGIAN FINANCE MINISTER DIDIER REYNDERS

"We need to grow to a balanced budget in the next years, but we need to do that with a better quality of budget. That means ... in fact, at the end, a real economic government for Europe and more for the euro zone."

"At the end we will see what is possible with the actual treaty or whether some changes are needed. If they are needed, we will organise the process.

"Today, the question is what are the goals and what are the best mechanisms to reach them."

EU MONETARY AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER OLLI REHN

"The (EU) Commission has made a comprehensive set of concrete proposals to reinforce economic governance in Europe. I welcome that there has been a rather broad endorsement of the Commission's proposals by several member states.

"There is broad support for the Commission's proposals to reinforce economic governance in the German proposals and I'm looking forward to a productive discussion today and in the coming weeks on this.

"The levels of debt in the European Union are too high at this moment, and there is broad support for these proposals (to bring finances into line)."

AUSTRIAN FINANCE MINISTER JOSEF PROELL

On whether he favours German proposal of orderly insolvency for states:

"I'm open for everything but we have other priorities. The question of sanctions must take priority. We must do everything we can so that countries that are lax with their budgets can be rapped on the knuckles. That's the task. With what instruments this can be achieved."

SWEDISH FINANCE MINISTER ANDERS BORG

"The recovery depends on confidence and confidence is built on trust in public finances. If we want to secure recovery we need to secure public finances.

"We need to be able to report earlier than in autumn, this cannot go on for months.

"There are strong points in both plans (the Commssion's and Germany's), why don't we mix them?

"We need to emphasise more the importance of debt, debt level is crucial in the crisis of confidence ... We need to have stronger sanctions and better national frameworks; the culture of stability needs to be reinforced. I see strong points in the German proposal."

FRENCH ECONOMY MINISTER CHRISTINE LAGARDE

Referring to Germany's proposal for tougher budgetary discipline:

"They are very interesting proposals and are going in the right direction."

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