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EU moves closer to eurozone integration

Dec. 14, 2012 at 5:37 PM   |   Comments

BRUSSELS, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- European leaders Friday unveiled plans for a deeper integration of the 17-member eurozone in the 27-nation European Union amid signs the outcome of the latest discussions was to bring Christmas cheer to the populace amid a troubled economic outlook.

French President Francois Hollande appeared to temper European optimism over the planned integration going beyond banking and finance. Slow growth and unemployment have to be tackled first as urgent priorities, Hollande warned at the end of the talks.

In contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel focused on eurozone leaders' reported agreement on a "road map" for integration that could be up for discussion early in 2013.

The talks' outcome left unclear where such an integration -- likely to be political, monetary and economic -- would leave the 10 EU members who aren't in the eurozone.

The eurozone comprises Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain -- 332 million people with a joint national earning of $12.4 trillion.

Those outside the eurozone include Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

Although the next half a dozen steps outlined are economic, fiscal or monetary the talk in the eurozone is a milestone being reached toward the emergence of a superstate with characteristics of a federal state of sorts.

Partly for populist reasons -- with jobs disappearing every day -- eurozone leaders have highlighted what they will do to fix the eurozone economy before talking of political integration.

The European Central Bank plans to take charge by March 2014 of all eurozone banks that still have life in them at that time -- a tall order as the eurozone still remains fragile.

A mind-boggling bureaucracy required to regulate the banks -- all operating in different languages and many beholden to ancient national traditions -- isn't discussed at this stage. EU data suggest up to 200 functioning banks may be involved, while dozens more are judged to be too sick to cure.

ECB also plans to put to sleep banks that cannot be revived, at what cost to the European taxpayer cost remains unclear.

A joint EU deposit guarantee scheme aimed at preventing a run on precariously performing banks is in the cards, again without any hint of its final bill for the taxpayer.

At some point during the ambitious reforms the main bailout fund, the $654 billion European Stability Mechanism will be used to recapitalize troubled banks under "strict" conditions.

The ECB and European Union have taken pains to reassure the new ploy will work better and shield taxpayers from the burden of rescuing their countries' banks. Critics say that's only a technicality because the ESM is fed through by taxpayers' funds and there's no telling what ESM's requirements will be when the reforms get going.

There was much talk of enforceable contractual arrangements between EU central authorities and individual governments so that governments could be penalized if they disobeyed. That produced some mirth because of the eurozone's so far unimpressive record in enforcing austerity and budget cuts.

In fact, member nations, particularly Greece, Italy, Portal and Spain, have had trouble getting provinces and regions to toe the line on budgetary discipline.

Integration moves have raised questions about Europe's future: whether its constituent states will finally disappear and if so who will lead the European Union at the head of a new superstate.

Other than common currency, European states worry over loss of national status at international bodies such as the United Nations.

Emerging economies frequently question British and French permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council, which will become untenable unless Britain opts out of elements that are likely to affect it, especially financial transactions. There are calls in Britain to ditch the European Union.

The Czech Republic is also skeptical about the union's expanding program.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently called for reversing the trend and returning some of the EU powers to member states. France under Hollande is increasingly suspicious of more European centralization.

The French are also becoming leery of a European superstate inevitably becoming beholden to Germany and the mantle of EU presidency going to Merkel.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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