David Prosser: Damned if they do, and damned if they don't

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The Independent Online

Outlook This should be fun. On Friday, the European Union's finance ministers will meet in Brussels in order to interrogate representatives of Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch on how they make creditrating decisions. Also on the agenda is a discussion of how these agencies might in future be penalised for getting ratings of governments wrong.

The idea is fraught with difficulties: not least, who would decide when an upgrade or downgrade had been proved wrong and what would the penalties be? Still, the meeting is a signal that the European Union is not inclined to let the ratings agencies put thefinancial crisis behind them without suffering a backlash.

Understandable, of course. But the irony is that what really seems to have upset many finance ministers is the decision of ratings agencies to downgrade their assessment of Greek sovereign debt earlier this year, which intensified the eurozone crisis at a difficult moment. And while Europe's governments no doubt found such downgrades inconvenient, having been so critical of the agencies'failure to see the credit crisiscoming, they can hardly complain when S&P, Moody's and Fitch behave more proactively.