Interest rates, cryptocurrencies and the future of the European Investment Bank (EIB) are among the agenda items for the European finance ministers’ council ECOFIN.
Along with the smaller Eurogroup, which includes only the finance ministers of those 19 EU members that have joined the single currency eurozone, ECOFIN is beginning two days of meetings in Vienna.
Austria currently holds the rotating six-monthly presidency of the EU, and the meetings will be chaired by the country’s finance minister Hartwig Loger.
Money conditional on reforms
The ECOFIN meeting for all 28 finance ministers is described as informal and will cover a wider range of topics than the routine council meetings.
EIB president Werner Hoyer has asked member states to increase their capital contributions to fill the gap. But some governments, including those of Denmark and Sweden, have said such an increase ought to be conditional on governance reforms at the bank, which invests in projects both in Europe and around the world.
In light of this, the EIB has agreed to be independently supervised by the European Central Bank (ECB).
Friday afternoon will see European finance ministers addressing the “possible repercussions of an increase in the ECB base rate in the financial sector,” said the Austrian presidency, adding, “Both the resilience of the sector and its weak points are to be discussed.”
In common with America’s Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, the ECB has been tightening monetary policy recently as the recovery from the economic crisis gathers strength.
Dealing with the digital economy’s obstacles
The end of Friday “will be devoted to the subject of cryptocurrencies,” said the EU presidency. “Points of discussion will include the opportunities and the risks involved, and also a possible regulation of this global phenomenon,” it added.
But ahead of the meeting, Mr Loger warned of obstacles on the road to achieving consensus on this issue. He said, “The informal meeting of economic and financial affairs ministers is an ideal opportunity for promoting our EU council presidency topics and for resolving blockades in various areas, for example relating to the taxation of the digital economy.
“On this subject, in many cases, the positions of the member states could not be more at odds. It is by no means an easy task to bring these differing perspectives down to a common denominator, but I am convinced that by addressing this topic we can make an important contribution to moving forward.”
Also on the agenda will be a proposal to use funds from the EU budget to help pay for structural reforms in member states.