The European Commission will on Wednesday tell five euro zone countries, including France and Italy, that their budget plans risk breaching EU rules, say three officials briefed on the decision.
The move comes a week after all euro zone countries submitted their budgets to Brussels for review as part of the EU's new fiscal rules. Officially a request for more information, the commission's move is the first step in a politically charged process of rejecting a euro zone nation's budget and sending it back to national capitals for revision. A decision on rejection must be made by the end of the month.
In addition to France and Italy, EU officials said similar requests will be sent to Austria, Slovenia and Malta.
Simon O'Connor, a spokesman for Jyrki Katainen, the EU's economic commissioner who is in charge of the evaluations, would not confirm the move. But he said it would not mean that Brussels had definitively decided to reject a country's budget plan.
"Technical consultations with member states on the draft budget plans do not prejudge the outcome of our assessment," O'Connor said.
A formal request for revisions to the French and Italian budgets could prove politically explosive. Both governments are fending off rising anti-EU sentiment.