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EU Ministers Approve Next Greek Bailout Payment After Banking Deal


The European commissioner for internal market and services, Michel Barnier, says the bank-supervisor deal "is a big first step for banking union."
Meeting in Brussels, finance ministers from the 17 European Union countries that use the euro currency have given the final go-ahead to a long-awaited bailout payment to Greece.

EU Economy Commissioner Olli Rehn said the decision to hand over some 49.1 billion euros ($64 billion) to Greece "marks the conclusion of many long months of uncertainty" for the cash-strapped country.

A first tranche of 34.3 billion euros is to be disbursed in the following days and the rest in the first quarter of 2013

The Greek government had raced to meet austerity and reform conditions demanded by its creditors and avoid a potential default in the face of its ballooning debt.

Last week, Greece launched a debt buyback that will enable Athens to retire nearly 20 billion euros in bonds repurchased at a third of their face value from private holders.

Bank Supervisor Approved

The decision comes after finance ministers from the 27 EU countries agreed on rules for supervising eurozone banks from March 2014.

Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner for the internal market, said the deal "is a big first step for banking union."

British Chancellor George Osborne said it would also protect the interests of EU states outside a future banking union.

"We have always said that the eurozone needed to create a banking union to help solve its problems and we have an agreement to create that banking union," he said. "But we also wanted to make sure that the single market was protected -- that countries that weren't going to join the banking union, like Britain, were protected and their interests were protected."

Under the agreement, at least 150 of the biggest banks in Europe will come under the direct oversight of the European Central Bank, which will act as leading supervisor over eurozone lenders.

The European Central Bank will be given the ability to grant and withdraw banking licenses, investigate institutions, and financially sanction banks that don't follow the rules.

The agreement must now be approved by EU leaders, who begin a two-day summit later on December 13 in Brussels.

The European Parliament and some national parliaments would then need to approve it before it comes into force.

Commentators say the deal is proof the eurozone's 17 members, from Germany to Greece, can unite to tackle the bloc's problems.

In other economic news, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve has announced new plans to help stimulate the U.S. economy more.

Ben Bernanke said the Fed would buy more securities to bolster the U.S. economy while, for the first time, tying its benchmark interest rate directly to the unemployment rate.

Bernanke suggested, however, that the bank had few levers over the economy.

He called on lawmakers to come to an agreement on the looming "fiscal cliff" that could severely curtail economic growth next year.

The U.S. economy is threatened by steep austerity measures due to go into effect at the end of the year if Congress and President Barack Obama cannot agree to more gradual measures to replace them.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
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