Deeper eurozone union 'agreed' - Germany's Merkel

(From left) British Prime Minister David Cameron, Portugal's Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finland's Prime Minister Jyrki Tapani Katainen chat at the EU summit on Brussels, 13 December
Image caption The leaders met for two days

EU leaders have agreed on a roadmap for eurozone integration beyond the deal on centralised banking supervision, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Specific dates have not yet been agreed for the phases of integration.

But the EU summit chairman, Herman Van Rompuy, said a deal should be reached next year on a joint resolution scheme for winding up failed banks.

Mr Van Rompuy's far-reaching roadmap was the main topic of the two-day Brussels summit.

Speaking after the summit talks, French President Francois Hollande said: "There is no doubt today about the integrity of the eurozone - Europe cannot now be taken by surprise."

But beyond the banking reforms, he said, Europe must address the problems of unemployment and feeble growth.

The deal to make the European Central Bank (ECB) the chief regulator should pave the way for direct recapitalisation of struggling eurozone banks by the main bailout fund, the 500bn-euro (£406bn; $654bn) European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Spain is especially anxious to get that help for its debt-laden banks.

Direct recapitalisation would help break the "vicious circle" in which bank debts have put a crippling burden on national budgets and led to massive taxpayer-funded bailouts.

However, Germany insists that the ESM should not be used to write off the existing "legacy" debts that have burdened Spain, Greece and the Republic of Ireland. Any ESM loans will be accompanied by tough rules on budget discipline.

June deadline

At a late-night news conference, Mrs Merkel said "we agreed a roadmap for the future development of the currency union and talked about different aspects of this that are important.

"Above all, it was important to define when we do what."

Mr Van Rompuy aims to present detailed plans for deeper economic integration in time for the June 2013 EU summit. They would include "mutually agreed contracts for competitiveness and growth between governments and EU institutions".

Much closer EU scrutiny of national budgets is envisaged, including penalties if governments rack up unsustainable debts.

Contractual agreements on things such as taxation and labour market policy are likely to require changes to the EU treaties - so these are likely to be put off until after the European elections in mid-2014.

The UK, along with Denmark, has a formal opt-out from joining the euro, and will not be part of the new banking union. But the UK's banking pre-eminence in Europe means it is taking an intense interest in the negotiations.

UK 'at heart' of EU

At a news conference after the summit, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said a "multi-faceted" Europe, with countries going at different speeds, did not leave the UK in an uncomfortable position.

He stressed that the UK had been "at the heart of decision making" on important issues like sanctions and EU enlargement, and "we wrote the rules of the single market and benefit from it today".

He said the eurozone countries were committed to protecting the euro, but deeper integration involved big sovereignty issues. "I personally believe Britain won't ever join, certainly not while I'm prime minister," he said.

Referring to the EU's crisis response, he said that "as this plays out it's changing the European Union... so I believe there are opportunities for others, like Britain, to make changes themselves".

'Good example'

New rules on prudent banking are seen as vital to bolster the euro, as bank failures triggered the financial crash.

Under the deal expected to take effect in March 2014, banks with more than 30bn euros ($39bn; £24bn) in assets will be placed under ECB oversight.

The ECB would also be able to intervene with smaller lenders and borrowers at the first sign of trouble.

Speaking after the summit, Mr Hollande said Europe had been unprepared for the financial crisis but now had a "crisis management authority" which allowed for the "return of confidence and growth".

The agreement on a financial transactions tax was, he told reporters, a good example of how countries could be brought into eurozone integration through closer co-operation, signing up to agreements at a later stage.

A non-eurozone country, Lithuania, joined the group adopting a financial transaction tax.

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