Lawmakers grill new EU economy chief amid doubts

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BRUSSELS (AP) — European lawmakers on Thursday grilled the 28-nation bloc's incoming economy chief, Pierre Moscovici, because many fear he cannot be trusted to properly enforce rules limiting government deficits.

Conservative European Parliament lawmakers used a three-hour confirmation hearing in Brussels to assail Moscovici with questions about his failure to bring France's finances back in order during his recent tenure as finance minister.

"Moscovici is hardly credible," insisted German lawmaker Burkhard Balz. "He did not convince his own government to ensure compliance" with the EU rules capping deficits and demanding economic reforms, he said.

France, the eurozone's second-largest economy, has missed several deadlines to bring its budget deficit under the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product. Its debt burden has passed the symbolic mark of 2 trillion euros ($2.5 trillion), equivalent of 95 percent of the country's output.

As the executive EU Commission's new economy chief, Moscovici will have to confront the thorny issue of France's failure to comply with the EU rules, although he was in charge of the country's finances until six months ago.

"France must abide by the rules as all others," Moscovici sought to reassure lawmakers. He vowed to be a "scrupulous guard" of EU rules, saying he won't be the "ambassador of one country" but act in the interest of Europe as whole.

Moscovici underlined the importance of economic reform, but warned that trimming deficits must not choke off Europe's meager growth and lead to more unemployment.

"We cannot accept another zero growth scenario for next year," he said.

The new EU Commission, taking over in November, needs parliamentary approval, but lawmakers cannot veto specific commissioners.

The Commission gained important powers in the wake of the 18-nation eurozone's debt crisis to oversee national fiscal policies to prevent new imbalances that could jeopardize the bloc as a whole.

If countries are found to be violating the EU rules, the Commission can impose a tough monitoring system that undermines the nations' sovereign decision-making, plus it can impose economic sanctions as a last resort.

However, under a new working structure proposed by incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Moscovici will be less powerful than his predecessors.

Moscovici's portfolio has been stripped of certain responsibilities that went to other commissioners and he will be answering to a Commission Vice-President, who will be able to veto his decisions, raising questions about how the new structure will work on a day-to-day basis.

"This is not about paternalism or oversight, this is about team work," Moscovici said in defense of the new system.


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