Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy has said the EU Commission's decision to mount a challenge to a decision taken by EU finance ministers in November may be a good thing.

The Commission said yesterday it would challenge in the European Court of Justice the ministers' decision not to impose sanctions on France and Germany over their budgetary policy.

The sanctions procedures had been recommended by the European Commission but opposed by a majority of ministers including Charlie McCreevy.

Mr McCreevy told RTE radio the challenge may provide legal certainty for the future, but he also warned that it could throw Commission powers in many other areas into doubt.

He said the move may also make it easier to change the EU Stability & Growth Pact, which underpins the euro and sets strict rules for member states' budget deficits. The Minister would like to see the rules changed to take more account of issues such as the size of the country, levels of debt and the state of the public finances.

EU monetary affairs commissioner Pedro Solbes plans to present new proposals next month on ways of strengthening the pact, which was left in confusion by the events of November.

The Commission was itself divided over whether to launch the court case. 'This had to be done. It is our role as guardian of the treaty to ensure that treaty provisions are upheld, or if not, clarified,' said Gerassimos Thomas, spokesman for Mr Solbes.

Thomas confirmed, however, that not all the 20 commissioners were in favour of the appeal to the Luxembourg court. Sources say the French, German and British commissioners were against the court option.

Solbes, for his part, said his risky strategy 'has had a great support, even if not all commissioners have agreed on all different aspects of the strategy'.

Commission president Romano Prodi called the decision to take action 'painful' but necessary. 'I know very well that this decision will have consequences, but the rules must be respected,' Prodi told the European Parliament today.

Thomas said the Commission had asked the Court of Justice to use a fast-track procedure so as to deliver a judgement on the case within six months, rather than the two years that a case normally takes.