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The French president, Francois Hollande, speaks with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, after the family photo at the EU summit in Brussels yesterday.
The French president, Francois Hollande, speaks with the German chancellor,  Angela Merkel, after the family photo at the EU summit in Brussels yesterday.

EU edges closer to banking union

The French president, Francois Hollande, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are in a position to agree on a calendar for full banking union after holding talks ahead of a European summit, a French official said.

BRUSSELS // The French president, Francois Hollande, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are in a position to agree on a calendar for full banking union after holding talks ahead of a European summit, a French official said.

"There was a constructive exchange of views between Mr Hollande and Ms Merkel," the official said. "It was a meeting to verify that our positions would allow us to have an agreement. I think that we can get agreement," he added.

Mr Hollande said he was determined to make progress.

"I'm in favour of moving forward," Mr Hollande said as the two-day summit began.

Suggesting electoral considerations are holding Ms Merkel back, he said Germany and France have a joint responsibility to get the euro area out of crisis and "we are almost there".

The meeting came as hundreds of youths in Athens pelted riot police with fire bombs, bottles and chunks of marble as yet another Greek anti-austerity demonstration descended into violence.

Authorities said about 70,000 protesters took to the streets in two separate demonstrations.

It was the second general strike in a month to protest against new austerity measures.

A 65-year-old protester suffered a fatal heart attack during the demonstration. The organisers of the protest march he participated in said that the man had fallen ill before any rioting had broken out.

Police responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades in the capital's Syntagma Square outside the parliament which continued for about an hour.

Four demonstrators were injured after being hit by police, paramedics said.

A protest march by about 17,000 people in the northern city of Thessaloniki ended peacefully.

European leaders were meeting yesterday to consider longer-term plans for a common euro-zone budget and the creation of a single banking supervisor as a first step towards a banking union. France is pushing hard for a swift implementation of a shared banking supervisor for the euro zone, a move that would pave the way for direct recapitalisation of banks by bailout facilities.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has said the bank supervisor should be operational by January 1 next year, but German officials have questioned whether that date is feasible.

The official said that there wouldn't be a decision on the technicalities of the banking union during the talks, but that leaders could agree on a calendar for its implementation.

Mr Hollande and Ms Merkel also briefly discussed the situation in Spain, the French official said.

Yesterday's protest and strike was timed to coincide with the Brussels summit, at which Greece's economic fate was expected to feature strongly.

The strike grounded flights, shut down public services, closed schools, hospitals and shops. In addition it hampered public transport in the capital.

Taxi drivers joined in for nine hours, while a three-hour work stoppage by air-traffic controllers led to flight cancellations.

Islands were left cut off as ferries stayed in ports.

Athens has witnessed hundreds of anti-austerity protests over the past three years, since Greece revealed it had been misreporting its public finance figures.

With confidence ravaged and austerity demanded, the country has sunk into a deep economic recession that has many of the same hallmarks of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"We are sinking in a swamp of recession and it's getting worse," said Dimitris Asimakopoulos, head of a small business and industry association.

* With additional reporting by Bloomberg News and the Associated Press

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