`Budget rigging' risks euro timetable

The credibility of the single currency will be called into question next week when new evidence is expected to emerge that several countries may be rigging their economic figures.

The Maastricht treaty set economic criteria for countries which wished to enter a single currency. But, now, European Union economists and statistical experts, monitoring adherence to the Maastricht criteria, are understood to have examined budget "massaging" in Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and Portugal.

The expert committee is understood to have looked at at least 10 cases in the countries in which one-off payments or temporary policy switches may have been used to ease deficits and debt, to help them gain entry to the single currency.

New signs that the convergence criteria may be weakly interpreted will renew calls from British Euro-sceptics for the Government to rule out joining the single currency in the first wave. John Major has stated that Britain would not join at the launch if the convergence criteria are not being strictly met.

Countries which want to qualify for the launch of European Monetary Union (EMU) must ensure that debt and deficit figures are in line by the end of this year. With the deadline approaching, the temptation to use creative accounting in several member states is intense.

The EU advisory committee, working closely with EU statisticians in Luxembourg, has looked at the legality of Italy's "Euro tax", proposed as a means of raising money to ease Italy's deficit. Roll-over bond payments which fund Italy's railways have also come under the committee's microscope.

And, it has looked at the decision in Madrid to freeze teachers' salary payments for 1997.

Belgium also faces criticism for attempting to ease its massive debt by asking local-government and social-security bodies to switch investments to government bonds.

The committee's findings will go to the European Commission, which will rule on any action.

The report will be closely studied, not just in Britain, but also by the governments of Germany and the Netherlands. The hard-line states are voicing mounting concern that the system of monitoring the convergence process is not impartial and may be designed to serve the interests of the states with economic problems.

There were signs in Brussels yesterday that pressure from countries who want the criteria to remain flexible may lead to a toning down of the committee's report. The European Commission has always been eager to accept a flexible interpretation of the Maastricht treaty.

France recently won endorsement from the Commission for a one-off payment from France Telecom to go towards its 1997 budget. The Bundesbank in Frankfurt and hawks in the Bonn finance ministry are still fuming over the Commission's decision, sayingBrussels overrode the view of the majority of member states.

Bundesbank officials said this week they would be watching further commission rulings on convergence very closely. The officials privately accused the Commission - and, particularly, Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the economics commissioner, who is French, of "dirty tricks".

If European member states do not adhere to strict convergence rules there are growing fears in Germany that German Euro-sceptics may challenge the EMU process in the German constitutional court.

If the Maastricht treaty is seen to be overridden for the sake of achieving the EMU deadline the constitutional court could rule that Germany's membership should not go ahead.

n Bonn (Reuters) - The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, arrived in Bonn for consultations on Madrid's determination to join the EU single currency at the outset, despite reservations expressed in Germany. Spanish delegation sources say Aznar is hoping for acknowledgement that Spain is on course to join EMU.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all