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BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ Finally, it has been a good week for Europe.
After months of bitter debate, European Union finance ministers finally reached two crucial agreements Thursday: They found a compromise to create a single supervisor for their banks â¿¿ a major step toward lessening the damage struggling lenders can inflict on government finances â¿¿ and agreed to give Greece desperately needed bailout funds.
As if that weren't enough, earlier on in the week, European leaders also accepted the Nobel Peace Prize â¿¿ an award that was in equal measure recognition of the peace the union had forged on the once war-torn continent and incentive to solve its intractable financial and political crises.
So upbeat was the mood in Brussels that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy even dared to say the end of the three-year-old crisis over too much debt might be at hand.
"The worst is now behind us," he told European leaders gathered for a summit Thursday to discuss how to build a closer union.
But a meeting over dinner Thursday of the leaders of the 27 countries laid out how much work still needs to be done to strengthen Europe against further financial shocks.
"Much remains to be done, but all the hard work is starting to pay off," Van Rompuy told a press conference early Friday, after the first day of the summit.
The targets laid out included: a new European body with the authority to restructure or close down banks in trouble, a continent-wide deposit guarantee system, a fund that would support countries struggling to make economic reforms and a system that made sure countries stick to their commitments to overhaul their economies.
But the commitments agreed early Friday at the summit were vague â¿¿ an indication of how many tough fights remain before the EU moves toward closer cooperation. The leaders said they would begin work on the bank resolution authority and deposit schemes next year, with the hope of reaching agreement in 2014.