French bid to beef up powers of euro-zone countries

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The Independent Online

France is drafting proposals to beef up meetings of finance ministers from Europe's single currency zone in a move likely to heighten the isolation of Britain and other countries outside the euro.

France is drafting proposals to beef up meetings of finance ministers from Europe's single currency zone in a move likely to heighten the isolation of Britain and other countries outside the euro.

Detailed plans by the French government, which assumed the EU presidency on Saturday, include proposals for longer meetings, clearer agendas and conclusions, and possibly a secretariat to serve the group.

Under a deal negotiated in 1997, countries outside the euro-zone are excluded from the so-called Euro 11 committee, but the group cannot take formal decisions as that is the preserve of the Ecofin council of all 15 finance ministers.

The French plan does not break the letter of that accord but seeks to forge a new economic culture in the euro-zone bloc and raise the profile of Euro 11, the membership of which will extended to 12 countries in January when Greece joins the fold. Sweden and Britain are outside the euro, while Denmark will hold a referendum on entry this autumn.

France's finance minister, Laurent Fabius, wants to raise awareness of the gathering of Euro 11 ministers. He is also calling for more statistics comparing performance in the euro-zone to that in the US or Japan, reinforcing the idea of the euro-zone as an entity.

Christoph Zeopel, Germany's Europe Minister, said of Euro 11: "This group must speak with one voice, especially in the field of defending the external value of the euro. I think that will be the realistic approach of reinforced co-operation in the future."

The move builds on efforts to boost the influence of Euro 11, which in May took the unprecedented step of stressing possible intervention in money markets to raise the value of the flagging single currency.

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