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EU Holds Off on Francy,Italy Sanctions 11/28 06:31

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union head office is opting not to sanction 
two of its biggest economies just yet for missing public finance targets and 
instead will give France and Italy until the spring to bring their debts and 
deficits in line.

   Paris and Rome have been accused of being too profligate in their budgetary 
spending plans at a time when the EU and the 18-country eurozone have been 
advocating strict austerity as the best way to get their public finances into 

   "We will decide in early March whether any further steps are necessary," 
said EU Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici as he 
stepped away from imposing immediate sanctions on two of the three biggest 
economies in the eurozone.

   Since eurozone nations are tied through their currency there is a need for 
overall controls since wayward economic policies in one nation could pull the 
whole currency zone down.

   The Commission insisted the extension would not allow laggard countries to 
get away with wayward spending and that they had to push through structural 

   "We will see to it that France and Italy push through important reforms over 
the next months," Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in newspaper 
interviews. "Otherwise we lose our credibility."

   The speed at which countries bring their budget deficits down is a matter of 
debate in Europe. Some policymakers think spending shouldn't be cut too quickly 
in order to spur growth.

   Even Germany, the economic engine of Europe, came in for criticism as it is 
deemed too hesitant in boosting public spending despite favorable financial 

   "The sizeable fiscal space, the investment needs and the very low interest 
rates, which imply that the social returns largely outweigh the borrowing 
costs, leave scope to boost public investment," the Commission said of 
Germany's situation.

   If only countries like France and Italy had such options.

   Emblematic of the difficulties it faces, Italy on Friday reported that 
unemployment rose to a historic high of 13.2 percent in October, up 0.3 
percentage points from the previous month.

   Though the Italian budget will respect the EU deficit limit of 3 percent of 
GDP, its overall debt is extremely high and Rome has said it will delay 
balancing the budget until 2017.

   France has a 21 billion-euro ($33 billion) cost-cutting plan for next year 
and announced an extra 3.6 billion euros on Monday to appease the EU head 
office. Even then, the country is expected to see a deficit of 4.3 percent of 
GDP next year.

   The EU head office is under heavy pressure to enforce the rules, especially 
when two of the larger euro economies threaten to flout them. Working with a 
strict austerity template, it wants to keep member states from building up huge 
debts of the kind that plunged the region into a crisis five years ago.


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