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Court Annuls EU Decision On Budget Deficits

13 July 2004 -- The European Court of Justice, Europe's highest court, has annulled a decision by European Union finance ministers to suspend the euro's fiscal-discipline rules to let France and Germany off the hook for excessive budget deficits.

The court in Brussels today ruled that the EU Council of Ministers "cannot depart from the rules laid down by the treaty or those which it set for itself."

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, took the EU's Council of Ministers to court after finance ministers failed to impose sanctions on France and Germany in November 2003 for having deficits higher than 3 percent of gross domestic product -- the maximum allowed for the 12 countries in the euro currency zone.

France and Germany have promised to get their budgets back in line in 2005.

The limits are intended to underpin the stability of the euro, but governments have complained of difficulty in meeting the targets. Reforms are expected to be proposed later this year.