BRUSSELS – The gradual exit from the monitoring process of the countries that violated the Stability Pact begins today with the meeting of the European Union’s economy ministers (Ecofin) in Brussels, with France emerging first, followed in the spring by Germany and later by Greece. Although France’s deficit exceeded the 3 percent limit from 2002 to 2004, it managed to fall below this level both in 2005 and in 2006, fulfilling the so-called viability criterion that will allow the European Commission to lift the monitoring. Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia noted that France’s exit from the monitoring process «will set a good example for the rest of the eurozone and the EU in general, as it will encourage new member states in their efforts to fulfill the eurozone criteria.» On the sidelines of the meeting, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis was expected to discuss with Almunia about Greece’s exit from the monitoring process. In last night’s Eurogroup meeting, the 13 economy ministers emphasized the continuing positive image of growth in Europe. The Commission’s forecasts put growth at 2.1 percent for this year, though already from January 18, Almunia had stated this may be revised upward. A very positive indication has been the lower-than-expected impact on German growth of the rise in value-added tax, while the drop in oil prices has helped, too.