The one-minute expert: Ecofin

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The Independent Online

What is it?

An environmentally friendly Scandinavian.

Hold on. Isn't it to do with that single currency stuff?

OK, sort of. is actually the monthly meeting of European Union finance ministers to discuss, er, 1999's European Monetary Union. Once every six months it's called "informal" and hosted by the EU President country (this time Ireland). That actually means it's the most important and there'll be a big shindig in some luxurious Dublin hotel before ministers get down to business.

Why is it in the news?

Because there's going to be a punch-up in Dublin next Saturday.

But that isn't news!

When the pugilists are our cuddly chancellor Kenneth Clarke, his German and French counterparts Theo Waigel and Yves-Thibault de Silguy, and the rest of the top brass, it certainly is.

So what's the problem?

Top of the agenda is the "Stability Pact", a German idea to keep everyone's finances, well, Germanic in EMU. That's proving rather unpopular as most of the EU's MPs feel they have the right to control their economic destiny. So it's pretty germane, really.

The Germanes? But they can't do that!

Oh yes they can, especially because German taxpayers will be bankrolling most of EMU. Waigel wants a system of stiff fines for anyone who runs a budget deficit of over 3 per cent of GDP once in EMU. Anyone who strays will have to hand over up to 0.5 per cent of GDP - a mere pounds 4bn in Britain's case.

So what does our Ken think?

"It's designed to keep convergent economies convergent after convergence," the Treasury says coyly "and Clarke agrees ... but the devil's in the detail."

Detail, my foot. Isn't this a German takeover of Europe in disguise, rule by the Bundesbank and all that Eurosceptic stuff?

Of course not. We'll just have to ask their permission to spend money, or the EU will penalise us and take it away, anyway.

Not so different from the situation today, then?


Any spats happen before?

There was a little skirmish in Verona earlier this year, when they couldn't decide on what to call the new single European currency. After arguing about florins, schillings and frankels they decided on the euro.

That's it?

Sorry, almost forgot the Battle of Bath. In September 1992 the UK hosted the "informal" meet in the city of spas and Norman Lamont got into such a tiff with the Germans (Mr Waigel again), he decided to have Black Wednesday the following week.

Don't you mean White Wednesday, which accidentally fuelled our recovery? And wasn't it George Soros who caused that?

Your minute's up.