European countries are realizing how difficult it will be to adhere to the strict rules against overspending that they have chosen as their key policy response to the two-year old debt crisis. At a meeting of in Brussels on Tuesday, European Union finance ministers agreed to sanction Hungary over its high deficits, but gave in to pressure from some countries to reconsider the ruling in June.
That push followed a decision by the finance chiefs of the 17-country eurozone Monday night to give Spain some leeway on cutting this year’s deficit.
While both Hungary and Spain will be expected to meet their budget targets for 2013, the discussions in Brussels have underlined how hard it will be for Europe to stick to the austerity measures it says are the best way out of the crisis.
At issue is not only a deepening recession in many economies – which critics say makes budget cuts counterproductive – but also the difficulty countries have in punishing a fellow sovereign state.
Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager said Monday that her EU counterparts have decided to sanction Hungary for its high deficit but will reassess their decision in June.
That gives Budapest three months to announce more structural budget cuts and prevent its deficit from breaking the EU’s limit of 3 percent of economic output. If it fails to do so, Hungary won’t get euro495 million ($649 million) in EU development funds it is entitled to in 2013.
But the U.K., Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic had sought to delay the decision on freezing the funds until September, two European diplomats said. They were speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was ongoing and no final decision had been taken.
A compromise solution was found by promising to reassess the sanctions in June, at which point they will be lifted if Hungary takes new measures.