§ Mr. Matthew Banks
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the most recent Council meeting of the Economic and Finance Ministers of the European Union.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I represented the UK at the Economic and Finance Council of the European Union in Brussels on 20 February.
The President of the Commission presented the Commission's work programme for 1995. He suggested that the main tasks facing the Ecofin Council were: contributing to stable and sustained growth, employment and preparations for economic and monetary union. He stressed that structural reform efforts to combat unemployment should not be slackened as a result of the economic recovery. He also summarised the Commission's activities and plans on competitiveness, the internal market and preparation for central and eastern European enlargement and stressed the importance attached by the Commission to the fight against fraud.
I said that the work programme should be judged by its effects on jobs and investment. The key to this was to ensure competitiveness. On EMU, I repeated the policy the Government have followed since Maastricht and recently reaffirmed by the Cabinet.
Commissioner Gradin presented the Commission's programme of anti-fraud activity for 1995. She said that fraud against the Community's financial interests had to be seen in a broad political context. European citizens were concerned that the Community's resources were spent properly and Community institutions and member states could demonstrate that the problem of fraud was being tackled effectively.
The Council discussed preparations for the meeting with Finance Ministers of the associated countries of central and eastern Europe, scheduled to take place in accordance with the conclusions of the Essen European Council. The Council took note of the Commission's paper on preparing the dialogue and agreed that further work was needed. The Council agreed to postpone the meeting until May.
The Council agreed to hold a meeting with the EFTA countries during the Spanish presidency.
Sir Leon Brittan gave a report on progress in the GATS financial services negotiations.
No formal votes were taken at the Council meeting.743W