March 16, 2015 / 6:51 PM / 4 years ago

ECB's Draghi calls for 'quantum leap' in European integration

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Describing the euro zone economy as “steadily recovering”, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi called on Monday for a “quantum leap” in European integration so countries share more sovereignty.

President of the European Central Bank (ECB) Mario Draghi presents the new 20 Euro banknote at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt February 24, 2015. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

A week after the ECB began printing money to buy sovereign bonds, Draghi said the bank’s stimulus, lower oil prices and structural reforms in euro zone economies were helping support growth in the 19-country bloc.

“We are meeting against the backdrop of a steadily recovering economic situation in the euro area,” he said in a speech for delivery at a finance conference.

“Most indicators suggest a sustained recovery is taking hold,” he added. “Confidence among firms and consumers is rising. Growth forecasts have been revised upwards. And bank lending is improving on both the demand and supply sides.”

The ECB had helped generate this upturn, said Draghi. Earlier on Monday, the ECB said it settled 9.751 billion euros ($10.30 billion) of public-sector bond purchases in the first week of the program to pump more than 1 trillion euros into the euro zone economy.

Under this quantitative easing (QE), the ECB intends to buy 60 billion euros a month of mainly sovereign bonds until September 2016, or beyond if needed to see a sustained adjustment in inflation back towards the ECB target.

The central bank projects its QE plan will turbo-charge a frail euro zone recovery, already helped by lower oil prices and a revival in bank lending.

But Draghi warned the currency area’s economies and institutions have not converged sufficiently.

“This is why, whenever there is a serious shock in any part of the euro area, questions about the sustainability of the union still arise,” he said, pressing countries to reform their economies to stand on their own two feet.

“SOVEREIGNTY SHARING”

Euro zone countries had not yet converged sufficiently to dispel doubts about the bloc’s cohesion, said Draghi, stressing: “We have now integrated too much to even entertain reversing the process – our economies are far too intertwined.”

Draghi has been pushing deeper integration since early 2012, when the euro zone debt crisis led him and other top crisis-fighting figures to work on a roadmap towards a banking union, fiscal union, economic union and political union.

His French predecessor, Jean-Claude Trichet, called in 2011 for a central European finance ministry.

The Italian ECB president noted Europe’s fiscal rules have repeatedly been broken, straining trust among countries.

In response, he proposed deeper institutional integration, with more shared sovereignty and strengthened accountability of the European Union towards its citizens.

“In sum, my conclusion is that there must be a quantum leap in institutional convergence,” Draghi said.

“We need to move from a system of rules and guidelines for national economic policy making, to a system of further sovereignty sharing within common institutions,” he added.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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