The European Union's ministers of finance now have only a matter of hours to reach consensus on reforming key rules for the euro. After repeated failures, they are assembling in Brussels this Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to agree on modified methods for operating the stability and growth pact.

The first challenge will be for the twelve eurozone members to agree among themselves. If they succeed, they will then have to bring the other thirteen member states on board. As of Friday afternoon, the prospects are not good. And new figures out this week, revealing that several member states are still way out of line with the pact's rules, are a sharp reminder that this weekend's discussion is no academic exercise.

There is agreement among the 25 that the current stability pact rules need adapting to strengthen the preventive mechanism that warns member states before they fall foul of the pact. But on the more punitive procedures that the pact envisages when states break the rules, opinions vary sharply about how they should operate.

The argument focuses on the factors to be taken into account in assessing whether to initiate punitive action against a member state breaching the pact's public deficit limit of 3% of GDP. Countries uncertain about their fiscal control capacities are seeking to exclude some areas of...

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