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Lower the flags of EU deficit breakers: EU official suggests

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(BRUSSELS) - A top European Union official suggested on Friday that the flags of EU states breaking budget rules could be flown at half mast, raising eyebrows in Brussels where the idea was derided as "absurd."

In an interview with German mass-circulation daily Bild, the EU's Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger was asked what Europe could do to provide an effective deterrent to breaking deficit rules, amid a crippling debt crisis.

Oettinger proposed that EU countries submit their budgets to the EU in advance for checking, then added: "We could also consider unconventional ideas."

The commissioner, who is German, said: "There is also the suggestion that the flags of deficit sinners could be placed at half mast outside EU buildings. That would only be a symbol, but it would be a powerful deterrent."

The European Commission sought to distance itself from his comments, with spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen saying that although Oettinger used "strong and graphic language," he was speaking as a politician on a "personal basis."

Amadeu Altafaj, spokesman for EU economic affairs chief Olli Rehn, told the same news briefing that Oettinger was merely mentioning "ideas that are circulating, some as absurd as that one."

Altafaj said he had not discussed the flag idea with Rehn, who was attending a meeting of finance chiefs from the G7 group of the world's richest economies in France.

"We have so much to discuss and so much to do in this very demanding and meaningful job we have, that we usually focus on serious ideas and proposals," he said.

In the interview, Oettinger also proposed that the EU send "qualified officials" from other member states to help Greece with its administration.

However, he rejected the idea that debt-wracked Greece should be forced to leave the euro area.

"That would divide Europe and would be a disastrous signal. It would give the impression that the EU is not in a position to stabilise a relatively small country," he said.

"Markets and creditors would lose their trust in us in the future."


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