May 8, 2018 / 12:50 PM / 5 months ago

EU governments cut Austria's fine for statistics misreporting

BRUSSELS, May 8 (Reuters) - European Union governments voted on Tuesday to fine Austria less for misreporting its debt than proposed by the European Commission, despite their own calls for the rules to be applied more transparently, EU officials said.

The Commission had proposed to fine Austria 29.8 million euros “for the misrepresentation by serious negligence of three government entities of government debt data” between 2008 and 2012 in the region of Salzburg.

The Commission set the fine according to a methodology already applied and accepted in a similar case involving the Spanish region of Valencia in 2015.

But a group of countries including Austria’s neighbours Germany and Slovakia — otherwise among critics of political discretion in the application of EU rules — pushed to have the fine cut to 26.8 million euros.

A required majority of the ambassadors from the 28 EU countries backed the reduction, which must be rubber-stamped by EU ministers, although Spain and the Netherlands spoke against.

“It sounds marginal, but the Commission has a clear methodology how to calculate this and governments do not question that the Commission has the sole responsibility to assess and propose the fine,” one EU official said.

“It is about vanity, it is about one member state protecting another,” a second EU official said.

The same methodology would be used to calculate potential fines for running too high a budget deficit for too long, although no country has yet been fined for breaking budget rules set out in the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact.

Senior EU officials said countries including France, Spain and Portugal had been obvious candidates for such fines in the past, but were saved by political discretion.

That was later criticised by EU finance ministers, including from Germany and Slovakia, who called for the rules to be applied more predictably and transparently. (Reporting By Jan Strupczewski Editing by Catherine Evans)

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