Economic crisis 'forging ever-closer European union'

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The economic crisis is helping forge the "European project" of ever-closer union, EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso declared today.

But he denied that the downturn was being used as an excuse to launch a "Brussels power grab" for national economic sovereignty.

Addressing Euro-MPs on the eve of a summit discussing plans for tight new financial controls on member states, he insisted any measures would be agreed in cooperation with national authorities.

But Mr Barroso admitted it was easier now to push EU leaders into deals when the chips were down.

"Once again, we can see that a crisis can accelerate decision-making when it crystallises political will. Solutions that seemed out of reach only a few years or even months ago are now possible," he said.

"As the history of European construction reminds us it is usually in times like this, in times of crisis that we can make progress in the European project."

He added: "The reality is that member states are now ready to accept some proposals that some years ago or even some months ago were simply not acceptable."

Only last week, the UK reversed five years of resistance and accepted new Commission powers to vet national economic statistics.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban signed up to an accord allowing EU statistical experts to carry out "methodological visits" on national exchequers when necessary.

A government official explained at the time: "A lot has changed in the last few months, and people are ready to accept some things that they would not have done just a short time ago."

But that will change at tomorrow's one-day summit, when Prime Minister David Cameron rules out another strand in the Commission plan - peer review of the national Budget before it has been presented to the Commons.

Mr Cameron will start his day with a pre-summit private breakfast with Mr Barroso, making clear that the UK strongly supports economic co-ordination and reform, and is in favour of a new levy on banks to fund any future need to wind-out failing financial institutions - taking the burden off taxpayers.

But he will make clear that London believes EU measures to shore up the euro's credibility should apply to the 16 eurozone member states, and not the rest.

Crucially, he will repeat Chancellor George Osborne's message to Brussels that Britain will not be submitting advanced Budget details to Brussels.

Neither will the UK expect to be subject of tougher financial sanctions against countries breaching EU debt and deficit rules originally designed to apply just to the eurozone, Mr Cameron will say.

The Commission wants the measures applied across the board but on the eve of the summit, support was growing for limiting the impact to the single currency area.

And on the peer review of budgets, a senior British official commented today: "We have made clear that the House of Commons is the place where the British budget will first be unveiled."

The summit will be discussing progress of a "task force" on economic rules and surveillance headed by EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy.

And draft summit conclusions already in circulation seem to get the UK off the hook, stating that, in the interests of strengthening budgetary discipline across the EU, member states should present their budgetary plans to the Commission each spring, "taking account of national budgetary procedures".