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EU leaders push for eurozone budget funding solutions

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders on Friday urged the 19 countries that use the euro currency to quickly figure out how they would fund a joint budget that would seek to stabilize strengthen the single currency zone.

The idea of a eurozone budget, which is being championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, was discussed last week by EU finance ministers, who agreed on the principles of a spending package for the 19-country eurozone.

But they have yet to come up with a clear plan. While France would like it to be substantial, there's a group of eurozone countries that worry that an expanded eurozone budget will mean less money for other EU spending priorities, such as development programs or public services.

"Last week's deal is going in the right direction but it's not enough," Macron said after a European Council meeting that was attended by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. "We need to build a proper budget with a proper governance and sufficient funding."

With the Netherlands at the forefront of concerns, differences remain on how the budget — which will be part of the overall EU budget — should be funded, whether through taxes or direct contributions from member states.

Macron also wants it to be a tool allowing transfers of wealth if a financial crisis develops in the eurozone — as was the case during the crisis years in countries like Greece and Ireland during the first half of this decade. It's a politically charged topic as many countries don't want their money to be used to fix other nations' economic troubles.

"Stabilization is essential," Macron said. "If we want the eurozone to really function, we need to have the necessary tools to answer asymmetric shocks." The European Council asked eurozone finance ministers "to report back swiftly on the appropriate solutions for financing."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU's executive branch, said Friday's decisions "deepened" the bloc's economic and monetary union, hailing its emergence from years of crisis to become "stronger than ever."

Mario Centeno, who heads the eurogroup, a gathering of eurozone finance ministers, said devising a funding scheme will be a focus for the rest of the year.

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