EC chief urges more centralisation
The head of the European Commission has urged Europe to become more united as it grapples to contain a debt crisis in Greece which is threatening the survival of the euro currency itself.
In a state of the union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Jose Manuel Barroso came down firmly in favour of the 27-nation European Union having a stronger central government.
"If we do not move forward with more unification, we will suffer more fragmentation," he said. "I think this is going to be a baptism of fire for a whole generation."
Mr Barroso's comments came as MPs in Finland and Germany prepare to vote on measures that will give the 17 countries that use the euro more powers to fight a debt crisis that has already led Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts. Greece is lumbered with so much debt that many in the markets think it will have no option but to default.
As well as facing a crisis in the eurozone, the wider EU is dealing with problems afflicting its borderless travel area that many observers say call for stronger central management of the union. More integration would mean that member countries would lose some powers they have considered part of national sovereignty.
Mr Barroso said the EU would be able to summon the political will to come up with overall solutions to its crises and proposed a tax on financial transactions, which he said could raise 55 billion euro (£48 billion) a year.
Meanwhile, the head of the European Central Bank (ECB) told an Italian newspaper that governments should speed up their implementation of measures to fight the continent's debt crisis.
Jean-Claude Trichet called on leaders "to demonstrate their sense of direction" and quickly put the new steps into effect. In an interview with Corriere della Serra, Mr Trichet said: "Now is the time for effective action, implementation, verbal discipline and a stronger team spirit."
MPs are due to vote in Finland and Germany on giving the eurozone bailout fund the ability to buy government bonds, bail out banks and lend to troubled governments quickly before they are in a fully fledged crisis.
Those measures were agreed by eurozone leaders on July 21, but the delay in implementing them has been one of the main reasons for the turmoil in financial markets over the past few weeks. While waiting for approval of the July 21 agreements, the ECB has stepped in to buy government bonds and drive down borrowing costs for Italy and Spain.