Four men, five weeks - a plan for Europe's future

Thu May 24, 2012 11:52am EDT
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By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders have given the bloc's four most powerful officials a little over a month to come up with a clearer template for euro zone integration, a pitch to persuade voters and markets that the euro has staying power.

The four -- European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy -- have no less a task ahead than spelling out where Europe is actually going.

"We have reached a point in which the process of European integration needs a courageous leap of political imagination in order to survive," Draghi said on Thursday in the aftermath of an EU summit that was long on the need for unity and growth, but short on both details and agreement.

The four men, working in the shadow of the bloc's worst financial crisis and under a growing threat of Greece failing to remain in the euro zone, are to report to an EU summit on June 28-29.

"The logic behind all this is that markets and global partners find it difficult to follow what we do on a daily basis, because they are uncertain about the long-term direction of the union," said one senior euro zone official.

"It is about giving a sense of direction, a strategic objective or goal for various purposes - for citizens, for markets, for global partners," the official said.

A popular backlash against austerity and reforms in debt-laden Greece, which threatens to force the country out of the euro, has made some investors doubt if the EU's flagship economic project can hold together.

Euro zone leaders have repeatedly restated their commitment to the shared currency since the sovereign debt crisis began more than two years ago, but many investors remain skeptical because of conflict within the zone over the crisis response.   Continued...

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso gestures as he addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir