Eurozone integration drive speeds up, markets sceptical

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Eurozone integration drive speeds up, markets sceptical

Top eurozone finance ministers meet in Paris on Tuesday in whirlwind efforts to ensure that a summit this week launches the EU towards far greater integration and stops debt contagion from Spain.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 26 Jun 2012, 6:05 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 12:24 PM

Ambition is high and tension is growing ahead of the Brussels summit on Thursday, with financial markets wary the outcome might again be disappointing in terms of credibility.

European Union leaders want to give EU authorities more power over eurozone national budgets, and to establish central banking supervision across the single market, a top level report said.

A report drawn up by EU and eurozone leaders Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso, Jean-Claude Juncker and Mario Draghi proposes to move ‘over the next decade’ towards greater centralised power for the ‘financial sector, for budgetary matters and for economic policy.’

In the report, EU president Van Rompuy says: ‘The euro-area level would be in a position to require changes to (national) budgetary envelopes if they are in violation of fiscal rules.’

EU Commission president Barroso said in a speech that the dramatic shift being considered ‘should start with steps that can be taken immediately without a treaty change.’

He said: ‘These would lead to longer term steps that may require such changes.’

Athens took a step forward meanwhile, naming former banker Yannis Stournaras as the country’s new finance minister.

In France, French junior budget minister Jerome Cahuzac told BFM TV and RMC radio that Paris, like Berlin, Rome and Madrid, had to share sovereignty over its budget.

‘This is what we are talking about, budget solidarity in Europe which implies that not only that the French budget, but also the German, Italian and Spanish budgets be subjected to a review by all our partners,’ Cahuzac said.

On sovereign debt markets, Spain and Italy had to pay sharply increased rates at bond auctions.

The 17-nation eurozone is struggling to convince markets it can get to grips with spreading crises. The latest blows were a downgrading of 28 Spanish banks as Madrid officially requested help for them, and a call for help from eurozone member Cyprus.

Gekko Global Markets senior trader Anita Paluch reflected market sentiment by saying investors wanted ‘firm decisions supporting a long-term vision of a strategy that will work and stop this festival of powerlessness we have seen in the past two years.’

Eurozone credibility depends on cooperation by its two biggest members, Germany which wants financial discipline and France which wants the emphasis on measures for growth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected in Paris on Wednesday for final consultations with French President Francois Hollande before the EU summit.

While neither has sought to mask key differences of opinion, both are aware that a failure to compromise could open a dangerous new chapter in the eurozone crisis.

Cahuzac, speaking the day after the new French government said it needed to find up to 10 billion euros of budget savings, said that France will freeze one billion euros’ worth of spending this year.

Meanwhile, finance ministers from France, Germany, Italy and Spain were to meet here with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Ollie Rehn.

EU crisis managers are trying to stabilise the eurozone banking sector.

At Barclays Capital, senior European economist Julian Callow commented: ‘It appears likely that there will be some high level agreement on at least some aspects of the draft plan for greater fiscal integration, while also moving more quickly towards establishing a ‘banking union’ at the euro area level.’

A decision by the Moody’s agency to slash the Spanish banks’ ratings came just hours after Madrid made a formal request for up to 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to bail out its banks. Spanish banking shares slumped.

Meanwhile, Cyprus became the latest eurozone member to ask for financial aid.

Italy is fighting to avoid being dragged deeper into crisis, but the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore said that Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, might need more than three billion euros in aid.

Germany, the effective eurozone paymaster, said it would take on more debt than planned to meet its growing share of bailout bills.

Meanwhile, Europe faced demands from Greece’s new three-party coalition government for modified terms for its latest bailout, including a two-year deadline extension on reforms.

But Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert warned that no decision would be taken until an international team of auditors had assessed the state of Greece’s economy.

In London, Kathleen Brooks, research director at online trading group, said: ‘The markets aren’t holding out too much hope for a neat resolution to the sovereign debt crisis at this week’s EU summit.’

She said: ‘The outcome of this summit will be a major break-out event, either one way or the other for the single currency.’

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