PARIS: While growth and recovery are back as buzzwords in European budgets for next year, rigour and austerity still remain hard at work in several countries.
Eurozone finance ministries had until last Tuesday to send the European Commission in Brussels their draft budgets for 2014 and show that they respect the new rules known as the "Two Pack".
One of the reforms in response to the eurozone debt crisis is greatly increased policing of European Union rules to contain public deficits to three per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). And for the first time, the commission can demand that a government change its budget if it appears lax or unrealistic.
The term "Two Pack" refers to this right to police budgets and also to strengthen supervision of countries in trouble or at risk of being so.
They form part of a "Six Pack" of new measures, which tighten penalties for all 28 EU members if they breach budget rules, and an obligation for 25 of them to balance budgets in the medium term.
The measures, together with a new framework to strengthen banks, caused great controversy because they imply dilution of sovereignty and re-ignited debate about the need for a common economic policy, and a so-called transfer union in which rich countries would automatically support the weaker.
But despite the new EU budget powers, the governments have made a point of insisting that the commission had not dictated their choices, and they put the emphasis on supporting growth.
Germany, the eurozone's biggest economy, came top of the class of 17, presenting a balanced budget and raising the possibility of a small structural surplus at federal state level.
In Italy, Prime Minister Enrico Letta, whose government recently survived an abortive attempt to topple it, expressed satisfaction at meeting the deadline in time, albeit at the last minute.
Letta emphasised that his budget for next year was the first for some time, which "does not begin with cuts by the scissors or new taxes to satisfy Brussels".
Belgium has submitted a budget showing a deficit of 2.15 per cent of GDP, owing to cuts in expenditure and extra tax on biofuels.
But France will not cross the three per cent line before 2015. The government has made much of its "sovereignty" and of going for "growth and jobs", but has stressed it will cut public expenditure by ?15 billion (RM64.8 billion). AFP