EU agrees to protect small savers, but divided over tax evasion – as it happened

EU is the new ‘Sick Man of Europe’, claims Pew Research Centre. French lose faith in integration and Hollande. EU ministers split over bank bail-ins. German ZEW investor sentiment index barely improves with a reading of 36.4 from 36.3…


Powered by article titled “EU agrees to protect small savers, but divided over tax evasion – as it happened” was written by Graeme Wearden, for on Tuesday 14th May 2013 18.04 UTC

6.52pm BST

Closing summary

With the Ecofin meeting over, that's all from me today. Here's a closing summary.

• EU finance ministers have agreed that upcoming new rules on how to resolve a failed bank should include guaranteed protection for savers with under €100,000.

The decision, taken at today's Ecofin meeting, is meant to reassure European bank customers that their money is safe, following the Cypriot bailout farrago, under the upcoming bank recovery and resolution directive that will outline how failing banks are handled.

See 6.09pm for the story, and 5.03pm onwards for highlights of tonight's press conference.

But there was only limited progress on other issues in Brussels. Ministers failed to reach a full agreement on how other creditors would be 'bailed in' under the new bank restructuring rules (see 12.25pm onwards for the key quotes) and the WSJ's early take is here.

 • Hopes that ministers would agree a new directive to clamp down on tax evasion were also dashed. Austria and Luxembourg refused to sign up for the directive, to the clear annoyance of the EU tax commissioner (see 5.16pm).

Instead, the EC has agreed a mandate for fresh negotiations with the likes of Monaco and San Marino (see 4.50pm for details)

The big news of the morning was a new survey which found a sharp drop in support for the European Union across Europe. Pew said rising unhappiness and anger over the debt crisis was turning the EU into 'the sick man of Europe' (see 8.17am for full details)

Pew findings
One of Pew’s findings.

Ian Traynor, our Europe editor, said the survey showed the relationship between Germany and France is deteriorating (see 11.30am)

Greece's credit rating was raised by Fitch. It which said the chances of the country leaving the eurozone had receded (see 6.02pm)

And the latest ZEW survey of economic sentiment in Germany was a disappointment. (see 10.23am onwards).

Thanks, as ever, for reading and for the many excellent comments. See you in the morning… Goodnight!

Austrian Federal Finance Minister Maria Fekter (L) takes part in a joint press conference alongside Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden,  following an Economic and Fiancial Affairs meeting on May 14, 2013, at the EU Headquarters in Brussels.
Austrian finance minister Maria Fekter and Luxembourg’s Luc Frieden. Photograph: GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 7.04pm BST

6.29pm BST

It was another bullish day in Europe's stock markets, with the FTSE 100 finishing up almost 1% at its highest level since October 2007 up 54 points at 6686.

As my colleague Nick Fletcher points out, it's the ninth daily rise in a row, and the best run since July 2009.

A takeover bid for Severn Trent (up 13% today) helped push the Footsie higher. Another factor was the sight of a bullish hedge fund manager, David Tepper, on CNBC today:

David Madden, market analyst at IG, explains:

David Tepper may not be the sole reason for this rally, but investors seem to have responded positively to the sight of a major hedge-fund manager making positive noises about the US economy

6.09pm BST

Here's Reuters take on the EU's decision to protect small savers, but the lack of concrete agreement on other issues (as we've covered through the day).

Depositors keeping less than 100,000 euros in a bank that is being closed down will get all their money back, European Union finance ministers agreed on Tuesday, and most supported the idea that bigger depositors would get privileged status.

"There was general agreement that deposits below 100,000 euros in any resolution will be sacrosanct," Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who chaired the talks, told a news conference.

The ministers were discussing rules of closing down banks and the hierarchy of losses imposed on the banks' owners and creditors in such an event.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier said that most ministers supported the view that large depositors above 100,000 euros should enjoy a privileged status, and be the last to lose any funds, after senior bondholders.

The ministers are to conclude the discussions in June.

6.02pm BST

Greece upgraded – here’s why

Back to Fitch's decision this evening to upgrade Greece's credit rating to B- / stable.

The agency said it took the move after concluding that Athens had made real progress in addressing its debt crisis:

The Greek economy is rebalancing: clear progress has been made towards eliminating twin fiscal and current account deficits and 'internal devaluation' has at last begun to take hold.

The price has been high in terms of lost output and rising unemployment and the capacity for recovery is still in doubt.

Nonetheless, sovereign debt relief and an easing of fiscal targets have lifted Central Bank measures of economic sentiment to a three-year high and the risk of eurozone exit has receded.

The full statement is online here.

5.44pm BST

Ecofin press conference ends, May 14 2013
That’s all, folks

End of press conference…

5.37pm BST

Michael Noonan was also forced to defend Ireland's tax system, including its low corporation tax rates.

It's not 'aggressive' he insists, merely transparent*. Noonan adds that corporation tax levels are being lowered in other countries too, such as Britain.

* – doesn't that mean we can see right through them, as Pratchett once put it?…

Updated at 5.37pm BST

5.33pm BST

So, small depositors are safe, but we're not hearing a lot about those with more than €100,000 in a bank that fails.

That's because ministers couldn't reached a deal about creditor protection limits. And this could cause jitters in the European banking sector, if corporations, organisations and wealthier individuals fear that they are near the front of the line when the bail-in bucket comes round….

Updated at 5.33pm BST

5.28pm BST

Noonan: on the Cyprus mistakes…

The next question points out that the original Cyprus bailout managed to impose losses on small savers by declaring a tax, rather than a bail-in.

Why can't it happen again?

Noonan replies that the Cyprus situation was unusual, and that everyone now realises that the levy was a very bad idea.

The public reaction to what happened in Cyprus has nailed it down "harder than ever" that deposits under €100,000 are sacrosanct, he adds.

Updated at 5.45pm BST

5.26pm BST

Small savers definitely protected

So that's a firm commitment from the EU ministers that small savers, with up to €100,000 in the bank, will be absolutely protected in the event of a bank failure.

5.23pm BST

Question Time

The Q&A session begins, and the press pack are chasing Noonan over his comments that 'almost everyone' in the Ecofin meeting believes guarenteeing savings below €100,000 are sacrosant.

Noonan explains that some finance ministers pointed out that their juristictions have a limit below €100,000 [he doesn't say who].

But the broad agreement, he insists, is that such small savers' protection is sacrosant.

5.21pm BST

Michel Barnier explains the details of today's discussions on banking resolution mechanisms:

Updated at 5.21pm BST

5.19pm BST

Just in: Fitch has upgraded Greece's credit rating to 'B-', with a stable outlook.

5.16pm BST

Tax commissioner: high expections weren’t met today

EU tax commissioner Algirdas Semeta is being politely scathing about Austria and Luxembourg after they blocked the Ecofin from adopting the new tax evasion directive today.

Semeta says that expectations were high going into the meeting:

I cannot say that high expectations were fully met…..

and he added:

It saw with great disappointment that I saw a deal on the new savings directive blocked today…..

Semeta does hail the new mangate on tax deals as a step forwards, but hopes that EU leaders can do better when they meet nextr week.

In the battle of tax evasion, what we achieved today was undoubedly a step forward.

Let's hope that what our leaders agree next week is more like a giant leap.

5.07pm BST

Noonan: no tax evasion deal today

Noonan confirms that EU ministers couldn't reach agreement on the new tax evasion directive, but points to the agreement on a new mandate on negotiations with other countries (see 4.50pm)

Updated at 5.07pm BST

5.05pm BST

Curious… Noonan tells the press conference that "almost everyone" agreed that deposits under €100k should be protected under the new bank resolution mechanisms.

Who doesn't?…

He adds that there was general agreement for a broad scope for a bail-in procedure with "a limited number of exclusions".

(However, as we covered at lunchtime, no agreement on the depositor preference details)

5.03pm BST

Ecofin press conference begins

And we're off! Michael Noonan begins by saying that Ecofin made 'concrete progress' on three issues — bank resolution mechanisms, the EU budget, and tax evasion.

(remember, it's being streamed here)

4.50pm BST

European Council: new mandate for tax evasion talks

The European Council has issued a statement, confirming that EU ministers agreed to give the commission a mandate to negotiate amendments to the EU's agreements with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino on the taxation of savings income (tax evasion, basically)

It's online here: Savings taxation: Council go-ahead to negotiate with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino.

Here's a flavour:

The decision represents an important step in the EU's efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and tax fraud.

The aim is to ensure that the five countries continue to apply measures that are equivalent to the EU's directive on the taxation of savings income, which is being updated. The Commission will negotiate on the basis of a draft directive amending the savings directive (2003/48/EC), aimed at improving its effectiveness and closing certain loopholes so as to prevent its circumvention.

Updated at 4.50pm BST

4.44pm BST

You can follow the Ecofin press conference live, here. (not actually underway yet…)

4.42pm BST

The Ecofin press conference is about to start. It's 20 minutes earlier than expected, too. A rarity for the EU….

4.34pm BST

WSJ: Ministers divided over bank reforms

The Wall Street Journal has summed up the lack of progress over bank resolution mechanisms today (as covered in the blog from 12.11pm onwards)

EU Ministers Split on Protection for Depositors (paywall).

Here's a flavour:

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, along with his Dutch and Danish counterparts, backed a tough approach in which uninsured depositors would contribute on the same level as senior bondholders when problems arose.

While that would help limit the losses borne by other classes of creditors, some worry it could jeopardize financial stability and scare off savers.

At the other end of the spectrum, France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said uninsured depositors should be excluded from sharing losses as a general rule, with a resolution authority able to question that in individual cases.

Other ministers backed a mixed approach under which uninsured depositors would be tapped, but only after all other creditors had been bailed in. Such "depositor preference" is supported by the European Commission and European Central Bank, and is already status quo in countries such as the U.S.

Updated at 4.35pm BST

4.28pm BST

Back in Brussels the finance ministers of Luxembourg and Austria have been holding their own press conference, to explain why they didn't support the EU directive on tax evasion.

Luc Frieden defended the countries' line, saying they are committed to the issue:

Here's some other highlights:

Oh, and it's still being streamed here

Updated at 4.37pm BST

4.20pm BST

RadioBubble, the Greek citizens media group, has written up yesterday's marches in support of Greek teachers who are being 'mobilised' by Greek authorities to prevent them holding strike action.

Update on the teachers' strike and civil mobilization – 14 May 2013

It reports that Greek police have been distributing mobilization orders widely today, which are designed to stop teachers holding industrial action at the start of the Greek exam season.

There's also a photo of a mobilization order which shows that the measure is "open-ended":

In other words, the teachers' right to strike has been revoked until further notice.

4.13pm BST

Word from Brussels that the Eurogroup meeting is almost over…

Updated at 4.15pm BST

4.11pm BST

Britain's permanent representative to the EU confirms that EU ministers failed to reach an agreement on the Savings tax directive, but did agree a mandate for reaching agreemetn with third-parties:

4.07pm BST

Head-up: eurozone GDP data for the first three months of 2013 will be released tomorrow morning. Economists expect another quarter of contraction, extending the eurozone recession by another three months.

But the decline is likely to be slower than in the last three months of 2012.

My colleague Jo Moulds has the details: Eurozone recession set to ease but recovery elusive

3.14pm BST

Disappointment as ministers fail to agree tax evasion directive

Algirdas Semeta, Commissioner for Taxation, says he is disappointed that finance ministers didn't reach agreement on the tax evasion directive today (thanks to obstruction from certain members).

The issue will be considered at an EU summit next week (on May 22nd), he adds.

Wolfgang Schauble at Ecofin, May 14 2013
Wolfgang Schäuble (centre) and Maria Fekter (right).

But Germany's Wolfgang Schäuble is more positive, saying it would be wrong to think there is 'frustration' at the Eurogroup today. He points out that leaders have reached "unanimous agreement" on a mandate for negotiations with Switzerland over tax evasion.

Updated at 3.20pm BST

3.01pm BST

Maria Fekter appears to be effectively blocking the EU's attempt to bring in new rules to clamp down on tax evasion.

She's saying Austria can't sign up to the new Savings Directive until Europe has hammered out deals with other parts of the world for the exchange of information.

However, those countries (such as Switzerland) are resisting those agreements until Europe has agreed its own tougher rules inhouse…. by approving the Directive.

2.56pm BST

2.56pm BST

Fekter adds that Austria sees the Directive "a little more positively" than in the past….

2.52pm BST

Austria: We won’t back new Savings Directive today

The question today is whether finance ministers back an amended EU Savings Directive, or not.

Maria Fekter, Austria's finance minister, says that the existing directive has never worked because its scope is too limited.

So she is minded to back the new directive, but "not today" as there is insufficient harmonisation with the rest of the world.

I accept the text, but not adopted today, because we then have the situation that we in Europe are going further [than other countries].

2.47pm BST

Key event

EU finance ministers are discussing the issue of tax evasion, and whether to share more information on savings accounts (a big issue for George Osborne today – see 11.18am).

2.38pm BST

Ecofin meeting, May 14th 2013
Today’s Ecofin meeting

The Ecofin meeting is continuing, and being streamed here. No major dramas yet…..

2.37pm BST

Back in Brussels, finance ministers have voted through an amended 2013 budget – despite George Osborne asking for extra savings to be made.

That's via Jürgen Baetz, who is covering the Ecofin meeting for AP.

2.18pm BST

Portugal rules out gold sale

Portugal has no intention selling its gold reserves to fund any future aid package, the head of the country's central bank has pledged.

Bank of Portugal Governor Carlos Costa insisted today that Portugal was not falling off track with its bailout programme. Asked about the possibility of a gold sale in future, Costa replied:

It is not applicable in Portugal.

Portugal holds 382.5 tonnes of gold, according to recent estimates. That's worth around bn (€14.6bn) at current prices — around 25 times more than Cyprus's reserves.

Costa also ruled out revising his economic forecasts, even though the bank expects a 1.1% increase in GDP in 2014, while the Lisbon government only expects 0.6% growth.

1.49pm BST

British Land to quit continental Europe

The economic crisis which is hitting faith in the EU (see opening post onwards) has also thumped British Land.

The company announced today that the value of its European portfolio has fallen by 17%, mainly due to the biting recession in southern Europe.

British Land now plans to dispose of its continental businesses.

My colleague Nick Fletcher has the full story here: British Land plans European exit as economic crisis hits property values

Updated at 1.49pm BST

1.25pm BST

City analyst Dan Davies jokes that Eurozone finance minister haven't really grasped the point that "depositor preference" means the order at which creditors are bailed into a rescue:

1.09pm BST

Ecofin: early reaction

The lack of clear agreement between finance ministers has alarmed author Lawrence McDonald, who points out that Europe has had years to reach a deal:

The Cyprus bailout has put the issue of bank failures in the forefront of many people's minds, especially after its government briefly planned to tax all savers.

Eurogroup ministers now all insist that 'insured depositors' are safe. But those guarantees are only as strong as the government that stands behind them, as Sony Kapoor of the ReDefine thinktank points out:

1.01pm BST

Barnier: Not convinced by French plan

European commissioner Michel Barnier isn't convinced by Pierre Moscovici's suggestion that Europe should not lay out a clear "depositor preference"

Moscovici is pushing for 'flexibility' over who picks up the bill, rather than a fixed order for which creditors suffer losses when a bank is in trouble.

Barnier didn't mince his words, either, telling the room (in French) that:

I have some difficulty, to be frank with you, with Pierre's proposal.

(quote via the FT's Peter Spiegel)

Ireland's Michael Noonan, who is chairing the meeting, summed up the meeting by claiming that finance ministers were homing in on an agreement.

But the watching journalists aren't sure that's quite right:

(our 12.11pm post summed up the differing views too)

Updated at 1.10pm BST

12.25pm BST

Osborne: calls for ‘flexibility with restraint’

George Osborne at Ecofin, May 14th 2013
George Osborne today.

Now George Osborne speaks, saying that "flexibility with restraint" is the key to succesful, workable, rules for failing European banks.

The UK chancellor says it is essential that small savers (with up to €100,000) are completely protected under rules for handling a bank that needs to be recapitalised, or wound down.

Osborne points out that the decision of whether to put senior bondholders ahead of uninsured depositors, or behind them, is tricky. A "clear creditor hierarchy" can be evaded, he explains.

Here's Osborne's thinking:

If bondholders face the first hit, then corporations could get round the rules by moving money from bonds into bank deposits. But on the other hand, protecting all deposits could be controversial in a country such as Cyprus where many were held by businessmen from outside the eurozone. Should they really be protected ahead of European banks?

Osborne also backed an idea mentioned by Dutch finance minister Jeroen DIjsselbloem, of a 'bailinable buffer' in case banks hit trouble. The UK, though, can't afford to set its own fund up, though, given the size of its banking sector.

And before anyone suggested a new levy, Osborne added that Britain has "the highest bank taxes of any country around this table.

Updated at 12.29pm BST

12.11pm BST

EU ministers split over bank resolution powers

EU finance ministers are still at odds over how to resolve failing banks.

The public session (streamed live here) has heard a range of views over bank resolution mechanisms. The debate revolves around how creditors are 'bailed in' to fund future rescue deals, and in what order of priority.

Jörg Asmussen of the ECB said was "essential" that ministers reach agreement quickly, so that bank resolution can be introduced in 2014.

we need to establish a clear pecking order for the bail-in.

Sweden's Anders Borg warned that introducing rules that would 'bail-in' large creditors could be destabilising for EU countries who are not in the euro. They cannot rely on the ECB to step in, he warned.

Sweden's finance minister, Anders Borg
Sweden’s finance minister, Anders Borg, today.

Spain's Luis De Guindos was also concerned about the implication of exposing depositors with more than €100,000 in the bank to losses. That could easily prompt a bank run, even among smaller savers, he warned:

France's Pierre Moscovici called for flexibility, saying a 'discretionally approach' is best when deciding who should take the hit.

But Koen Geens of Belgium argued in favour of clear rules:

As did Germany and Denmark:

Updated at 2.14pm BST

11.51am BST

Another day, another interest rate cut. Serbia has slashed borrowing costs by 50 basis points, from 11.75% to 11.25%. Analysts had only expected a quarter-point cut.

It's the first cut in a year, and follows a stream of similar rate reductions in the past fortnight (eg the ECB, Australia, Poland, Israel…)

11.30am BST

Ian Traynor: Public mood at odds with Europe’s crisis response

Our Europe editor, Ian Traynor, has dubbed the Pew's report into Europe "a catalogue of unremitting gloom (unless you're a German)"

The report (see 8.17am onwards for details) is the latest sign that the Franco-German alliance at the heart of Europe is wobbling, he says.

Ian writes:

It is striking how the policy responses of EU leaders to the currency crisis are at such odds with public opinion, as centrifugal political action clashes with centripetal national moods.

The crisis management of the past three years has essentially seen Berlin, Brussels, and others resort to technocratic fixes in an incremental process of pooling economic and fiscal policy powers in the eurozone.

Outside of Germany, however, public support for surrendering such powers from the national level to Brussels, as is happening, is declining rapidly, generating an ever widening "democratic deficit" in the EU that the leaders regularly bemoan but have done nothing to address.

Here's Ian's full analysis: Eurozone crisis sees Franco-German axis crumbling

11.18am BST

George Osborne will push fellow finance ministers at today's Ecofin to help tackle tax evasion by signing up for a new EU directive on savings.

Our political editor, Patrick Wintour, explains that the directive will mean countries share more tax information, making it harder to conceal taxable assets.

Osborne, in advance of a heads of EU government summit later this month devoted to tax transparency, will urge his fellow EU ministers to sign off the directive, which has been delayed by almost a decade.

 Writing to other EU finance ministers ahead of Tuesday's meeting, he says: "Unless Europe can show it can agree on this existing proposal, our commitment to a new, stronger standard will not be credible. It is a test of our seriousness, and the world is watching us."

Here's the full story: George Osborne urges EU finance ministers to sign tax directive

Updated at 11.19am BST

11.07am BST

The public section of the Ecofin meeting is being streamed here

Updated at 11.07am BST

11.03am BST

Photos: EU finance ministers meet in Brussels

Over in Brussels, finance ministers from across the EU have gathered for today's Ecofin event. On the agenda, the push towards banking union and the details of the 2013 EU budget.

Here's a few photos of the pre-meeting banter:

French minister of  Economy, Finances and Foreign Trade  Pierre Moscovici and British Chancellor of the Exchequer  George Osborne  (LtR) talk prior to an Economic and Financial Affairs meeting on May 14, 2013 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels
French finance minister Pierre Moscovici chatting to British chancellor George Osborne. Photograph: GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, center, talks with Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg, left, and British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, during the EU finance ministers meeting, at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 14, 2013.
 Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg, left, with Pierre Moscovici and George Osborne. Photograph: Yves Logghe/AP
Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem (C) at the start of a finance ministers meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 14 May 2013.
Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem at the start of a finance ministers meeting. Photograph: OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Finnish Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen talk in front of (from L, background) French minister of  Economy, Finances and Foreign Trade Pierre Moscovici and European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer prior to an Economic and Financial Affairs meeting on May 14, 2013 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Finnish Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen (both foreground). Photograph: GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

The agenda for the meeting is online here:

ECONOMIC and FINANCIAL AFFAIRS Council meeting, Brussels, 14 May 2013

In summary (all times approximate)

• Banking Recovery and Resolution – from 10am BST/11am CEST

• Any other business – from noon BST/1pm CEST

• Draft Amending Budget No 2 to the General Budget 2013 – from 1.30pm BST/2.30pm CEST

• Savings taxation (relating to how savings income is taxed, and potential tax evasion) – from 2.15pm BST/3.15pm CEST

• Press conference: 5pm BST/6pm CEST

Updated at 2.44pm BST

10.46am BST

ZEW: What the analysts say

The news that German investor confidence has barely improved (see 10.23am) has disappointed financial analysts.

They say it shows that the eurozone recession is grinding on, while Germany itself appears to be stabilising.

Here's a round-up of reaction, from the Reuters terminal:

Lothar Hessler of HSBC Trinkaus

We had expected a better result after industrial orders and output and exports all rose recently. Also the European Central Bank cut rates.

The data nevertheless point to a stabilisation of the German economy. It is growing again. But the euro zone is still in a recessionary phase. That in turn dampens the upswing here.

David Brown of New View Economics

Germany and the troubled Eurozone economies are poles apart in terms of where they are in the recovery cycle and Eurozone policymakers should not confuse them.

While Germany continues to pull away, the rest of the Eurozone still needs a lot more stimulus efforts from the ECB and government fiscal policies before the Euro area is off the recession rocks.

Thilo Heidrich of Postbank

Basically, the ZEW index remained below expectations. Above all, a strong stock exchange performance and good industrial data from Germany had led people to expect something better.

On the other hand, the data points to a continued expectation among participants of economic stabilisation or a slight recovery."

And Mike van Dulken of Accendo Markets points out that ZEW took the shine of this morning's decent industrial production data (see 10.12am)

Updated at 10.47am BST

10.23am BST

ZEW survey of German sentiment shows little improvement

From Pew to ZEW…and the closely watched survey of economic sentiment has shown that German analysts and investors are still alarmed by the troubles in the eurozone.

The ZEW index inched higher to 36.4, from 36.3, dashing forecasts of a larger rise on the back of recent decent data.

A separate measure of current conditions dropped to 8.9 this month from 9.2 in April – suggesting the German economy is struggling to bounce back from its contraction at the end of 2012.

Clemens Fuest, president of the ZEW Institute, commented:

Despite mostly positive economic data for the German economy, the ZEW indicator remains at the level of the previous month.

This may be due to the still poor economic situation in the euro zone, that is also reflected by the recent ECB interest rate cut

Reaction to follow….

Updated at 10.23am BST

10.12am BST

Eurozone industrial output rose by 1% month-on-month in March, according to Eurostat.

That's twice as bit a rise as analysts had forecast, and an encouraging sign for Europe's manufacturing base (although the increase was mainly due to strong energy demand).

February's reading was revised down from 0.4% to 0.3%, so the sector is still 1.7% smaller than a year ago.

9.52am BST

Italian govenment debt hits record high

Italy's government debt has risen to a new alltime high of €2.035 trillion in March – the Bank of Italy reported.

9.32am BST

Pew's findings also chime with the latest Guardian/ICM poll, released this morning, which showed a surge in support for the eurosceptic Ukip party.

The poll found that the number of voters backing Ukip has doubled to 18%, while the three main parties all lost four percentage points.

Ths rising anti-European sentiment, both in the country and on its own backbenches, has forced the UK government to announce plans for a new draft bill introducing an in-out EU referendum.

Here's the full story: David Cameron offers olive branch on EU referendum as Ukip soars

9.18am BST

The agenda

Quick bit of housekeeping. Here's what's coming up in the eurozone

Ecofin finance ministers meeting in Brussels begins: 10am BST/11am CEST

Ecofin press conference: 5pm BST/6pm CEST (estimated!)

Spanish debt auction: morning

German ZEW survey of economic sentiment: 10am BST

ECB's Jörg Asmussen speaking in Berlin: 5pm BST.

(via RanSquawk)

9.08am BST

The 'national stereotypes' section of Pew's report gives an interesting insight into European attitudes:

Asked which EU member was 'most compassionate', people in each country surveyed picked themselves.

The French identified themselves as both the 'most arrogant' and 'least arrogant', while everyone decided that Germany was the most trustworthy, apart from the Greeks who felt they deserved the crown:

European stereotypes
Photograph: Pew Research Centre

(that's from the bottom of this page)

Updated at 9.08am BST

8.56am BST

Pew was particularly concerned about France, describing the eurozone's second-largest economy as "Dyspeptic", and drifting away from Germany.

No European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France. In just the past year, the public mood has soured dramatically across the board.

Economic woes are the main cause, with 91% of the French saying their economy is doing badly – up from 81% a year ago.

And two-thirds of those surveyed reckon president Francois Hollande is doing a poor job handling the challenges posed by the economic crisis. That's 24 percentage points worse that his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Worryingly for Brussels, 77% said believed European economic integration has made things worse for France (+14), and 58% now have a bad impression of the European Union as an institution (+18).

France's economic mood, 2013
Photograph: Pew Research Centre

Updated at 8.56am BST

8.17am BST

Pew: European Union is The New Sick Man of Europe

Pew findings
Top-line findings from the Pew Institute’s report.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the eurozone financial crisis, and other key events in the global economy.

Public support for the European project has fallen and distrust between countries is growing, according to a new survey released overnight that shows the damage caused by the region's debt crisis over the last few years.

The well-respected Washington-based Pew Research Center warned that support for the EU has slid over the last 12 months, from 60% in 2012 to just 45% this year.

In a report titled "The New Sick Man of Europe: the European Union", Pew showed that backing for European integration tumbling in France.

The people of Europe are increasingly gloomy about economic conditions, disillusioned about their leaders, and losing faith in the whole idea of European Unity, the poll found.

Decline in support for EU
Photograph: Pew Research Center

As Pew put it:

The effort over the past half century to create a more united Europe is now the principal casualty of the euro crisis. The European project now stands in disrepute across much of Europe….

The prolonged economic crisis has created centrifugal forces that are pulling European public opinion apart, separating the French from the Germans and the Germans from everyone else.

The southern nations of Spain, Italy and Greece are becoming ever more estranged as evidenced by their frustration with Brussels, Berlin and the perceived unfairness of the economic system.

Pew surveyed over 7,600 people in March in eight countries – Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic.

It also found that Angela Merkel remains the most popular leader in Europe, by a wide margin. Not just at home — Merkel won majority approval for her handling of the European economic crisis in five of the eight nations surveyed.

Other leaders, though, are in the doghouse, Pew says:

Compounding their doubts about the Brussels-based European Union, Europeans are losing faith in the capacity of their own national leaders to cope with the economy’s woes. In most countries surveyed, fewer people today than a year ago think their national executive is doing a good job dealing with the euro crisis.

Support for EU leaders
Photograph: Pew Institute

The full report is here.

Pew's report comes as European finance ministers gather in Brussels today to discuss how to implement banking union across the eurozone. Perhaps they'lll find time to chat about these findings in the corridors…

I'll be tracking all the developments through the day, including more highlights of the Pew survey, and reaction to its findings.

Updated at 8.45am BST © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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