EU ministers discuss Slovenian and Lithuanian plans to join euro

Ministers from the 12 nations that use the euro were taking a first look Friday at applications from Slovenia and Lithuania to join the common currency next January. Speaking at the start of the two-day meeting, Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser said Slovenia had "good chances" to join the euro.

"If all the criteria are fulfilled they will be the first country to join," he told reporters before he went in to lead the talks. He did not discuss Lithuania or the country's high inflation rate which may rule it out of early euro membership beyond saying that the euro zone needed to be "very strict" and make "no compromises" with new members.

"The stability of the euro is the most important issue," he said. Not all the current euro members have kept to the tight rules designed to keep the euro-economy stable, and revised statistics from Greece show that it would not have been eligible to join in 2002. The European Commission will give its view on whether the two countries should become euro members on May 16, with a decision from ministers scheduled for June 28.

Finance ministers from other EU nations arrive in Vienna later Friday for talks that will cover protectionism, tax rates and Europe 's efforts to cope with globalization. They will also meet with their Asian counterparts on Saturday and Sunday. Chief executives from Nestle SA, Volkswagen AG and Telefonica Moviles SA are due to tell European ministers how the 25-nation block can remain an attractive business location as Europe tries to capitalize on the current upswing in export demand and create more jobs.

Governments will also discuss work on a plan the European Commission claims could cut the cost of filing tax returns in up to 25 separate jurisdictions. Earlier this week, EU taxation chief Laszlo Kovacs called on ministers to back work creating a European standard for taxing corporate income a plan that has raised hackles in lower-tax countries such as Britain and Ireland that oppose any move toward a uniform tax rate.

Kovacs insisted that he was merely looking for all countries to support the current work even if they were against the general principle of creating a common tax base, saying he was hopeful more governments would eventually sign up to the plan. The world response to high oil prices will dominate talks Saturday between the EU and 13 Asian countries Brunei , Cambodia , China , Indonesia , Japan , Laos , Malaysia , Myanmar , the Philippines , Singapore , South Korea , Thailand and Vietnam .

Ministers are scheduled to talk about the world economic situation and swap views on how they can all adapt to globalization as well as voting quotas at the International Monetary Fund and the fight against money laundering. However, talks may also touch on U.S. demands that China devalue its currency, the yuan. U.S. officials say the yuan is undervalued by up to 40 percent and gives an unfair advantage to China 's manufacturers at the expense of American competitors, reports the AP.

N.U.