Changes in ECB voting rules await ratification

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Rules streamlining European Central Bank voting are likely to be adopted smoothly though France and Greece are expected to give the nod only at the last minute, a European Union official said on Tuesday. The rules, which have already been accepted by EU leaders, are set to be discussed by national parliaments in the two countries in April, just ahead of a May 1 deadline, after which new EU members could in theory reopen negotiations. But with French lawmakers planning to discuss the rules on April 8 and their Greek counterparts on April 19, the ECB’s plan, which deprives any eurozone country of its permanent vote on interest rates, seems likely to survive. «The problem is if there is a member state which has not ratified before May 1… (but) for the time being, we don’t expect anyone not to ratify before May 1,» said the official, who is involved in tracking the procedure. EU leaders at a summit a year ago accepted the plan to rotate votes at the ECB council, which threatens to balloon out of proportion once more countries adopt the euro. But some national parliaments still have to ratify the decision. Some smaller countries grumbled over the complicated system, which gives bigger countries a say on interest rates more frequently than their smaller peers. But the official said he expected no serious objections from national lawmakers. Should all EU countries not ratify the plan before May 1, new EU members could seize the opportunity to renegotiate the rules, which groups most of them in the lowest tier of countries which can vote in only 38 percent of meetings. Germany’s Handelsblatt reported on Tuesday there was a risk of renewed horse-trading if countries had not ratified the rules by a March 31 deadline. But the EU official said that as long as the rules were ratified before May 1, they were part of the legal body that new EU members had to comply with. The ECB’s voting plan will be applied once four more countries adopt the euro, which is not likely to be anytime soon. It lays out how to vote for up to 27 eurozone members. There are presently 12 countries in the single currency bloc.

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