EU finance ministers achieved a significant breakthrough in negotiations over a 'banking union' by agreeing that the European Central Bank would be made the chief supervisor of euro zone banks. That decision, and another by euro zone ministers to release up to 50 billion euros in new aid to Greece, marked two positive developments after a long year of crisis-management and took some of the pressure off leaders to make major strides. "CASSANDRAS"
ECB President Mario Draghi hailed the deal on banking supervision, the first stage towards a banking union with more pooled sovereignty, as an important step towards a stable economic and monetary union. Under the deal, officials said the ECB would regulate some 150 to 200 banks directly - all major cross-border lenders and state aided institutions - with the power to delve into all 6,000 banks in case of problems.
Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said "Cassandras" who had predicted disaster for the euro and a Greek exit had been proven wrong. But there is little time to relax. The next stages of banking union - creating a resolution fund for winding up troubled banks and coordinating deposit guarantees to protect savers - may be fought over even harder. And then there will be political and financial hurdles to negotiate through the year.
"The fact that the situation in the financial markets is now better than before should not be seen by the governments as a way to procrastinate," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters.
Much of southern Europe faces another year of grinding recession with record unemployment and deepening poverty that will tear at the fabric of wounded societies and may push governments' efforts to reduce deficits further off course. With Silvio Berlusconi vowing to contest an Italian election early next year, a full bailout of Spain still on the cards and a German election in September casting a long shadow, 2013 promises to be the EU's fourth turbulent year in a row, even without risks from bailout victims Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Italy is a particular concern if the