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EU leaders to urge fast work on EU budget rule reform

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders will urge their finance ministers next week for more efforts to reform EU budget rules, amid disappointment in some countries at the slow progress on the issue so far.

"The European Council underlines the need to keep the momentum on the reform of European economic governance, and looks forward to receiving for its October 2010 meeting the final report of the Task Force, presenting a comprehensive package of measures which will guide legislative work," a draft of the leaders' conclusions showed.

The EU leaders will meet for a summit on Thursday.

"The European Council welcomes the important progress made, notably on the development of a new macro-surveillance framework to monitor and correct unsustainable competitiveness divergences and imbalances in a timely manner and on the strengthening of national fiscal frameworks," the draft obtained by Reuters added.

EU finance ministers agreed on Tuesday to submit their budget plans for early review by the European Commission and other EU governments as part of moves to strengthen fiscal discipline in the bloc and prevent another sovereign debt crisis like the one triggered by Greece.

But apart from this agreement there have been few concrete results from the finance ministers' "Task Force" meetings held since May, and there is growing frustration at the lack of progress.

"We had three or four meetings where we keep repeating what has been said before," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs meetings of euro zone finance ministers, said on Sept 3.

One area where there has been no progress beyond generalities is the issue of putting more focus on keeping debt under control, which in most euro zone countries is above the 60 percent of GDP limit set by EU budget rules.

There has also been little progress on making sanctions for breaching the rules more automatic and for penalties to kick in at an earlier stage to better enforce compliance with the target of keeping a budget in balance or surplus and not exceeding a deficit of 3 percent of GDP.

Under the budget plan agreed on Tuesday, governments in the 27-nation EU will send their main budget outlines to the executive Commission by the end of April each year.

Their economic and budgetary policies will then be monitored during a six-month period every year to detect inconsistencies and emerging imbalances.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)