Lighter rap for Germany over deficit


EUROPEAN finance ministers were today rubber stamping a political fix allowing Germany to escape a humiliating reprimand over its soaring budget deficit.

In a stark example of big European countries bending the rules to protect the euro, a deal was hammered out by eurozone countries early today to water down the censure, saying the German public accounts were merely a cause for concern. Ministers from non-eurozone countries, including Britain, join the meeting today.

A more critical statement would have hampered German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who faces an election this year. But Germany has still been severely bruised by the affair. It was the country that created the unpopular stability pact in the first place, primarily to rein in the spending programmes of Italy. Critics of the pact, including Britain, argue that it remains too inflexible, particularly in times of economic hardship.