TALLINN (Reuters) - France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire expressed caution about plans to offer financial help to eastern European countries to adopt the euro, saying the euro zone itself should become more integrated first, before further enlargement.
Asked by reporters what he thought of further enlargement of the euro zone, which now has 19 countries, Le Maire said:
“I think the most important challenge now is the reinforcement of the euro zone.”
“Enlargement is possible but if we want the enlargement to be a success, first of all we need a reinforcement and more integration within the euro zone,” he told reporters on arriving for a meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Tallinn.
The remarks sounded cooler than proposals made by the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who called on Wednesday for euro zone membership to become the norm by the time Britain leaves the EU in 2019.
Juncker also said the Commission would propose technical and financial help to EU countries trying to meet euro adoption criteria, but did not elaborate on what that would entail.
Of the 28 countries now making up the European Union, 19 are members of the currency bloc. Most Eastern European countries, including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, are not in the euro zone and neither is Sweden.
They all have a legal obligation to join when they meet the criteria, but there is no deadline for that and some, like Sweden or Poland have no plans to even start the process in the foreseeable future.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by Jan Strupczewski