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Italy and France soften budget stance at EU summit

Italy and France left an EU summit on Friday without a sought after change to the bloc's strict budget pact, winning only an assurance that countries can make the most of flexibility already built into existing rules.

BRUSSELS: Italy and France left an European Union (EU) summit on Friday without a sought after change to the bloc's strict budget pact, winning only an assurance that countries can make the most of flexibility already built into existing rules.

The European Union's 28 leaders were gathered in Brussels to nominate former Luxembourg premier Jean Claude Juncker, a conservative Brussels insider whose nomination was bitterly opposed by Britain's David Cameron.

In return for their backing of Juncker, the leaders of France and Italy, both left-of-centre socialists, hoped for leniency from Germany and other member states to meet the EU's strict limits on deficits and public debt.

Instead, in a final strategy for the EU's direction over the next five years, member states only agreed to make "the best use of the flexibility that is built into the existing" rules.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzo said the strategy statement was a success in itself.

"We voted for Juncker because we obtained a strategy that is a very good roadmap to build Europe over the next five years," Renzi said.

"If a country makes the necessary reforms it can take advantage of the flexibility set in the rules," he said.

French President Francois Hollande said France had no choice but to meet its international commitments.

"What would the Council think of a country that tried only to break its commitments," Hollande told a press conference following the summit.

"Respecting the treaty (rules) is respecting the budget pact with the flexibility it already carries," Hollande said.

Ahead of the summit, Hollande had called for a "deeper discussion" to come up with changes to the budget rules which limit the deficit member states can run, and the total debt they can accumulate.

Renzi had similarly cautioned against the rigid application of the rules, calling for a shake-up in Europe's approach to give governments more leeway to spend more to boost growth.

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