14 Jan 2012

EU critical of rating downgrade

9:42 pm on 14 January 2012

The European Union's top economic official has criticised a decision by Standard Poor's to downgrade the credit ratings of nine eurozone countries.

France's AAA rating was lowered to AA+, with a negative outlook.

Italy was downgraded to BBB+, negative outlook, and Spain to A, with a negative outlook.

Germany, the bloc's largest economy, was unchanged at AAA, stable.

Economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said the move was inconsistent as the eurozone was taking decisive action to end the debt crisis.

The BBC reports that other senior European officials have also hit out the move.

SP criticised the bloc's response to the crisis, saying austerity and budget discipline alone were not sufficient to fight it and risked becoming self-defeating.

SP said its rating actions reflected its view that policy moves taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be ''insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone.

Mr Rehn said he regrets' the decision taken by SP's, saying the euro area has taken decisive action in all fronts of its crisis response'' and was making progress in calming financial markets.

Cyprus, Italy and Portugal were cut by two notches.

Austria, France, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia were cut one notch.

Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all had their ratings affirmed.

In December, SP announced that it was putting the eurozone countries on review for downgrade in view of the worsening debt crisis and the failure of EU leaders to put a halt to the problems.

In August, SP downgraded the AAA rating of the United States.

Greece has a rating equivalent to that of a partial default from SP at CC with negative outlook.

Domestic repercussions in France

France still has a top AAA rating from the other two main ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch.

''It's not good news, but it's not a catastrophe, said Finance Minister Francois Baroin. It's not ratings agencies that decide French policy.''

The BBC reports the political fall-out could be very disagreeable for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Elections are due to be held in 100 days and Socialist candidate Francois Hollande has a wide lead over Mr Sarkozy.

He said last year that safeguarding the AAA rating was an absolute necessity.