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New year, new goals

Christoph Hasselbach, Brussels / sms
December 14, 2012

EU leaders have crossed one item off the eurozone rescue to-do list and agreed to new projects for 2013. Some politicians were pleased with the summit's outcome, but Chancellor Merkel says tough times are still ahead.

European Union leaders pose for a family photo during a EU summit in Brussels December 13, 2012. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Top European politicians left Brussels on Friday (14.12.2012) with a feeling of satisfaction, perhaps for the first time in months, after setting up one of their most important projects: European bank supervision.

The leaders also left a rough outline of what needs to be accomplished over the next six months. Tasks include instituting more budgetary discipline, economic coordination and measures for increased competitiveness to stabilize the currency union.

"Those who said that the eurozone would split apart by the end of the year and had already predicted doom turned out to be wrong. That is a good sign," said Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann. But, in the face of high unemployment and weak economic growth, he stopped short of saying the crisis was over.

The situation will remain tough for some time to come, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. Photo:Michel Euler/AP/dapd
Merkel said the eurozone isn't out of the woods yetImage: dapd

"The very weak budgetary discipline over the years and the loss of competitiveness will not be regained in a short period of time," she said, adding that governments would have to carry the "political burden of the change process" for years.

The EU still has a lot of work to do, Merkel said. One of the projects to be tackled in 2013 is to get individual countries to submit themselves to reform measures dictated by the European Commission in exchange for access to money from a new fund. Exactly how this will happen has yet to be agreed, but the focus will be on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad.

Don't mention the eurobond

Though careful to avoid the word eurobond, which has been repeatedly rejected by Germany, Faymann said he still believes it will be necessary for the bloc to establish a means of shared debt liability as the range of interest rates paid by eurozone members increases.

Merkel and other heads of government feared another major setback for European politics, should former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi return to office. The Italian politician had appeared with other conservative leaders at the Brussels summit.

At a press conference, Merkel responded diplomatically when asked about her view of Berlusconi, saying she would not get involved in Italy's domestic affairs.

Silvio Berlusconi talks to the media at the end of the European People's Party summit, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 Photo:Yves Logghe/AP/dapd
Berlusconi said he would stand aside if Monti runs for a second termImage: dapd

"Nevertheless, I made it clear that the Monti government has been very helpful in establishing the trust that Italy currently enjoys in markets and the world," she added.

No weapons for Syria's opposition

While the summit focused on Europe's own problems, leaders also carved out some time to discuss foreign policy issues, especially how to deal with the civil war in Syria.

"We have a moral duty on this issue, where so many innocent lives are being lost," said EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

French President Francois Hollande again told journalists that his country was the first to recognize the opposition Syrian National Coalition as the legal representation of the Syrian people - a step not all EU members have taken.

Hollande said he also believed "the war was turning to the disadvantage of Syrian President [Bashar] Assad."

European leaders agreed that Assad would not have a role in a future Syrian government and that "all options" need to be considered in helping the Syrian opposition. They stopped short, however, of lifting an arms embargo that would make it possible to supply weapons directly to the opposition.

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