BRUSSELS - The EU issued stern warnings to France, Spain and Italy on Friday that they must hold unwaveringly to their budgets for 2014 or run afoul of the bloc's strict fiscal rules.

The European Commission, wielding new watchdog powers designed to ward off a repeat debt crisis, cleared France's draft 2014 spending plans in advance of parliamentary scrutiny, but warned there was "no margin" for slippage in reducing the deficit.

The EU executive also identified considerable dangers in figures supplied by the governments in Rome and Madrid -- a day after Spain, like Ireland, announced it would do without an international credit line come the January end of its banking bailout.

Imposing its will for the first time in this way on national budgets, EU Economy Commissioner Olli Rehn approved the draft budgets of all eurozone countries except for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus which are in bailout programmes.

The warnings to France, Spain and Italy, though, underscore a background of fragile and stuttering eurozone recovery from recession, and of big social strains in countries already applying tough measures to correct public finances.

The Commission can't force countries to rewrite their spending plans -- but after issuing such warnings, the executive need not tip-toe around in future assessments of progress measured against benchmarks agreed by all EU governments.

It is also the first time it gets to comment on budgets before they are adopted instead of complaining states have breached their fiscal commitments after the fact.

Tensions are now rising strongly in France, and the latest Commission reminder follows a number of recent critical reports on the outlook for French reforms.

The Commission said measures contained in the French government's 2014 budget suggest "adequate progress" towards a 2015 deadline for meeting the European Union's deficit ceiling of 3.0 percent of GDP, "albeit with no margin."

France is the eurozone's second-biggest economy, but French output shrank in the third quarter according to the latest growth figures. The government in Paris made only "limited progress" in 2013 in tackling root budgetary issues, the Commission said.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, in Brussels for two days of talks among eurozone and EU counterparts, told AFP that the verdict amounted to a seal of approval for French policy on public finances.

"It's a sort of certification of the seriousness and the credibility of France's budgetary policy," Moscovici said after Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg flagged up "really worrying" developments in France.

The EU's Stability and Growth pact obliges member states to post deficits not greater than 3.0 percent of GDP, and to head towards accumulated debt no higher than 60 percent of output.

Both ceilings were routinely flouted even prior to the global financial crisis and then the eurozone debt crisis.

A number of eurozone countries got into serious financial difficulties and had to be rescued, on condition that they applied radical reforms to cut public deficits and restructure their economies.

This required big cuts in state spending, increased unemployment, cut tax revenues, and pushed the eurozone as a whole into recession.

Risks for Spain and Italy

EU Economy and Euro Commissioner Olli Rehn signalled concern that Spain's public deficit and Italy's debt could get worse.

Spain's draft 2014 spending plans are "at risk of non-compliance," the EU executive said, as Spain struggles towards a delayed 2016 target to return within EU norms, while Italy may also miss debt-reduction targets.

Rehn said that Italy had been denied the right to class some spending under a special exemption for perceived growth-enhancing investment.

"Every day this year there has been a politically-sensitive moment in Italy," Rehn told a press conference when asked if that decision raised the risk of a return to political turmoil.