The Economic and Financial Affairs Council, also known as the ECOFIN council, is composed of the economics and finance ministers of the European Union Member States. It meets formally once a month in Brussels or Luxembourg. In addition, each presidency hosts an informal meeting once every six months in its own country.
The so-called euro group meets the day before each ECOFIN Council. The euro group is an informal body to which the finance ministers of the euro zone countries belong. Its members consist entirely of those EU states which have introduced the euro as a common currency.The euro group traces its beginnings back to a resolution of the European Council in December 1997 in Luxembourg, which aimed to set up a body to improve the coordination of economic and budget policy issues of the single currency area and euro representation vis-à-vis non-euro countries.
As the chair of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, or ECOFIN, Germany will assume special responsibility for cooperation on European economic and financial policy that is as smooth and effective as possible.
The challenges facing Europe within this context are obvious. Above all, globalisation and demographic change require considerable modernisation and reform measures, both in the Member States themselves and at the European level.
The European Union was enlarged a little over two years ago to welcome 10 new members from central and eastern Europe as well as from the Mediterranean region. In January 2007 two new members - Bulgaria and Romania - joined the European Union. The EU now consists of 27 Member States.
Enlargement has brought with it considerable opportunities. With 493 million people, generating more than one quarter of global social product, the EU is already the largest single market in the world. This will bring lasting benefits not only to the population in the new EU Member States, but also to the inhabitants of the old Member States.
Still, the European Union must prove it can remain active and flexible in the field of economic and financial policy. One key to success will be the continued development and completion of the European single market.
During Germany’s Council presidency, which lasts a mere six months, it will not be possible to launch, let alone complete, any ground-breaking new initiatives. Rather, the process is a gradual one. Germany will focus its attention on this process and above all prepare the ground for further successful long-term activities within ECOFIN, activities stretching beyond its presidency.
To this end, Germany will join forces with Portugal and Slovenia, which chair ECOFIN in the second half of 2007 and first half of 2008, respectively, to become the first Member State to introduce a trio presidency. In teaming up together, the three states will focus the direction of the Council’s work over the next 18 months on: