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French failure to reform threatens euro, warns Brussels
France, the eurozone's second biggest economy, has been singled out for harsh criticism by the European Commission with a warning that low French competitiveness and high debt threaten the EU's single currency.

The European Commission on Wednesday published a report on "macroeconomic imbalances" on 13 EU countries, including Britain, singling out Spain and Slovenia for warnings over "excessive" failings.

Both countries faces EU sanctions including massive fines - unless they step up structural economic reforms and take additional measures to cut debt by the end of May.

"In two member states, Spain and Slovenia, imbalances can be considered excessive," said Olli Rehn, the EU's commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

"In Spain, the very high domestic and external debt levels continue to pose serious risks for growth and financial stability. In Slovenia, the risks for financial sector stability are substantial, including through inter-linkages with public finances."

The commission used unprecedentedly strong language to criticise France in a stinging assessment that covered Francois Hollande's first year as French President.

In a bleak analysis of the French Socialist president's performance, the EU's executive warned that France's diminishing growth prospects are toxically combined with soaring sovereign debt levels, expected to rise to 93.8 per cent of economic output next year.

"France's public sector indebtedness represents a vulnerability, not only for the country itself, but also for the euro area as a whole," the commission report said.

"The resilience of the country to external shocks is diminishing and its medium-term growth prospects are increasingly hampered by longstanding imbalances."

While noting President Hollande's attempts to make reforms, the Brussels report signalled that France could be threatened with sanctions because measures to restore competitiveness are currently inadequate.

"While these reforms are steps in the right direction, they will not be sufficient to solve the competitiveness issues and, in view of the challenges ahead, further policy response will be needed," the report said.

Indicating growing concern over France, rather than so-called eurozone "periphery" countries such as Spain, Mr Rehn emphasised that the EUa426;s single currency could be threatened by the lack of progress.

"France is a core country - in terms of its size and its geo-economic position," he said. "Its health has a very direct impact on the overall health of the eurozone."

The commission report also highlighted flagging competitiveness in Britain, with a continuing credit crunch jeopardising growth and Government atampts to cut public debt.

"High and increasing level of government debt remains a concern and, although the government deficit is still forecast to fall gradually, progress on fiscal consolidation has slowed in a context of weak economic growth," said the report.

"Continuing balance sheet repair in the financial sector, which is among the most highly leveraged in the EU, means that bank liabilities are not expected to expand rapidly, although the scarcity of credit is in turn holding back economic growth and hence progress on fiscal consolidation."

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