December 1, 2016 / 5:55 PM / 9 months ago

UPDATE 1-France backs Brussels' call for fiscal stimulus, hits back at Germany

* Sapin says countries with surpluses should loosen purse strings

* Says Greek bailout review should be concluded by year-end

* Calls planned U.S., UK corporate tax cuts unacceptable (Adds more quotes, details)

By Michel Rose

PARIS, Dec 1 (Reuters) - France threw its support behind the European Commission's call for fiscal stimulus on Thursday, pushing back against euro zone fiscal hawks like Germany over whether some countries should ease budget discipline.

Two weeks ago, the commission - the executive branch of the European Union - called for Germany and other countries to loosen their budgets to create more growth and jobs, a plea also aimed at addressing the rise of populist parties in Europe.

A shift towards moderately expansionary budget stances would mark a reversal of EU policy, which has stressed fiscal discipline for most of the bloc's existence.

"I want to say how much I support the European Commission's approach," Finance Minister Michel Spain told Reuters in an interview. "The countries which are currently running a surplus must take a more dynamic position, and they know it very well, even if they don't like to be reminded about it."

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a veteran member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and a fiscal hawk, criticised the commission's plea last week, saying it was directed at the wrong country.

His Dutch counterpart supported his position, saying the commission should focus on enforcing EU budget rules rather than proposing fiscal stimulus.

Sapin said the call for more spending in surplus countries did not mean France was asking for more leeway in its own plans to reduce its budget deficit.

"France is even more keen to defend this position since it considers it will have no particular consequence on its own situation," he said. "We must continue to cut our deficits."

Sapin's ruling Socialists face a presidential election next year that polls show they are likely to lose. Francois Fillon, the free-market conservative who has secured the nomination of Les Republicains, favours public-sector job cuts and tax cuts that could initially put a strain on the budget.

GREEK BAILOUT REVIEW

The French finance minister, who was speaking during a visit to Russia before a Eurogroup meeting of finance ministers on Dec. 5, also called on his euro zone peers to conclude the latest review of Greece's bailout.

"We have a window of opportunity by the end of the year, we must use it," he said.

Backing measures proposed by the bloc's bailout fund to reduce Greek debt before 2018, Sapin said they could be implemented quickly and that longer-term measures should be discussed at the Dec. 5 meeting.

"It will be a clear signal given to the Greek people and the Greek government so they can continue their efforts," he said.

Sapin also said Britain's decision to cut corporate taxes and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's plans to do the same were unacceptable and amounted to fiscal dumping.

"What Britain says on this subject is unacceptable," Sapin said. "In the United States, a certain number of announcements in this regard are not positive or beneficial to international dialogue, either."

Britain has outlined measures to cut corporation tax to 17 percent by 2020. Trump has proposed cutting corporate tax to 15 percent from 35 percent and allowing corporations to repatriate overseas profits at a 10 percent rate. (Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Ingrid Melander, Larry King)

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