EC recession 'to deepen'

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EUROPE is sliding deeper into recession, the European Commission said yesterday, predicting in its gloomiest forecast for years that the rate of the European Community's economic development would this year be almost half that of last year, slowed by zero growth in Germany.

The Commission urged member states to make good the EC growth package decided at the Edinburgh summit with concrete measures to make it work.

'The economies of the EC have reached a critical point,' said Thor Pedersen, the Danish Minister for Financial Affairs, who chaired the meeting of finance ministers. 'Conditions must be met successfully to bring down interest rates fast,' he said, adding that the signs out of Germany were 'promising'.

The EC Commissioner for economic affairs, Henning Christophersen, confirmed the trend in short-term interest rates was already downwards, saying he was optimistic they might all be lowered over the next four to six weeks. The only bright spot was the possibility that the Clinton administration would kick-start the US economy. He predicted such expansion could boost EC growth by an extra half per cent.

Britain looks set to fare better than most EC countries next year. The Commission prediction for 1.3 per cent growth tops Treasury forecasts of around one per cent. Only Greece, Denmark and Ireland are expected to perform better in a Community whose average growth will slump to 0.8 per cent this year against 1.1 per cent in 1992. France and Spain weigh in with an anticipated 1 per cent, Italy at 0.8 per cent and the Netherlands at 0.6 per cent.

Norman Lamont, the British Chancellor, said the UK forecast was encouraging. Mr Christophersen suggested the 'successful fight' against inflation and the depreciation of the pound had helped British competitiveness, but warned that though the forecast for UK growth was stronger than some, 'all we are talking about is degrees of pessimism'.

While EC finance ministers admit there is much to do on the structural side to create jobs, all agree the European Monetary System is not fatally flawed.

Recent speculative attacks on the Irish punt and French franc were, said Mr Pedersen, 'wholly unjustified'. The system was fundamentally, 'strong, robust and solid'. Under pressure from Dublin, the Twelve issued a statement that the punt would not be devalued and would continue to be supported by all EMS members.