Brussels maps out more unified eurozone

by Alex PIGMAN

Brussels (AFP) - Encouraged by the victory of French President Emmanuel Macron, the EU on Wednesday unveiled a raft of controversial ideas for improving the often dysfunctional European single currency.

The so-called reflection paper from the European Commission maps out proposals, including the partial bundling of sovereign debt from across the eurozone, that will face suspicion in Germany, the bloc's most powerful member.

Berlin has historically snubbed French-influenced ideas for reform of the eurozone and further integration, but the Brexit vote last year and the rise of Trump-style populism has given the idea of more Europe new momentum.

"The status quo is not an option," said EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici at a news briefing announcing the paper.

"It is clear ... that we must move forward," the former French finance minister said.

The commission, usually reluctant to provoke Berlin, made the announcement amid a spat between Germany and the Trump administration, with Chancellor Angela Merkel urging Europe to "take our destiny in our own hands".

The euro is a "promise of prosperity", said European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis.

"To keep that promise ... we need the political courage to work on strengthening and completing Europe's economic and monetary union now," the former Latvian prime minister said.

One big idea floated by the commission is to introduce a permanent president of the Eurogroup, the grouping of eurozone finance ministers that decides common policy for the currency area.

- Full-time chief -

Currently, the ministers name one of their own as head of the group, with Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem set to end his term later this year after five years of handling the Greek debt crisis.

The job could be merged with that of economic affairs commissioner, currently shared by Moscovici and Dombrovskis, the paper argues.

The paper urges the completion of the eurozone banking union that was created in the heat of the debt crisis amid catastrophic bank failures in Ireland, Spain and Greece.

The trickiest parts of the banking union, a common deposit insurance scheme, is resisted by Germany and other richer eurozone states that are concerned about the fragility of banks in countries such as Italy.

The commission's ideas are part of a larger project to reform the eurozone and would require a tough adoption process.

Just days after reformist Macron's victory against anti-EU Marine Le Pen, France and Germany promised a joint plan to accelerate eurozone integration, with other member states also contributing to the debate.