The 17-nation eurozone is in much better shape now than anyone could have expected at the same time last year, eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker said in a farewell address.
Juncker, due to step down after a eurozone finance ministers meeting on January 21, told the European Parliament on Thursday many people had expected the eurozone to collapse last year under the weight of the debt crisis but in fact it had been stabilised.
That does not mean all is well - far from it - but at least the worst fears of last year were not realised, he said.
"We are in a much better position in January than in the same month last year," he said, citing progress in boosting the single currency area's defences with its new rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism.
"Greece is still a (eurozone) member," he said, after the EU finally cleared much-needed emergency funds late last month in return for another stinging austerity package of spending cuts and tax hikes in Athens.
Better still, the ESM was launched and the eurozone finally agreed on a timetable for a Single Supervisory Mechanism for the banks, aiming to avoid the problems of the past by stepping in before any failing lender can wreak havoc with the economy.
Juncker drew a positive reaction when he said in reply to a question about the lack of women in senior EU positions that the first head of the SSM, a much coveted appointment, should be a woman and in this case would be French.
In addition, he offered some hope the ESM might help ease the burden on those countries such as Ireland, which had to bail out its banks before the fund was set up, saying there had to be "some degree of retroactivity" to cover such cases.
Spain, which at one stage looked as if it would follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a full sovereign debt bailout, had stabilised, with Brussels providing funds to bolster its stricken banking system.At the same time, the EU was making progress on increasing economic and fiscal policy co-ordination, which was crucial for putting the European project on a sounder basis but gains here continued to be slow, he said.
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