Europe is going through hard times, but its integrity will be preserved, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in Italy on Friday.
The eurozone leaders welcomed Italy's "clear commitment to achieve the objectives of fiscal consolidation and structural reform aimed at increasing competitiveness, liberalizing the economy, raising the retirement age, and balancing the budget by 2013," Van Rompuy said at the yearly opening of European University Institute in Fiesole, near Florence.Italy's adoption of an austerity package demanded by the EU - which had been passed on Friday by the Parliament's upper chamber and is expected to be finally approved by the chamber of deputies at the weekend - was a major step in the right direction, the EU leader said.
He also added that after the final vote "there will be some real work to do," and that "Italy has a potentially high economic performance, yet it needs huge efforts to unleash it in a structural and permanent fashion."
Van Rompuy noted that the EU at the moment needed a "mixture of expertise and political sense," as the road ahead "is not laid out neatly."
"We are in the midst of a crisis which affects the material and symbolic heart of the European Union, the euro, and we need to overcome it," the European Council president said.
"There is the sheer determination (among leaders of the EU) to bring the euro back into safe waters, and the conviction we will succeed," he added.Van Rompuy stressed the eurozone debt crisis had evolved "into a systemic concern, threatening the stability of the euro zone as a whole."
EU leaders had made great efforts in "improving the sustainability of the Greek debt, building a firewall against contagion, restoring confidence in the banking sector, consolidating the budgets and enhancing competitiveness, stimulate economic growth and employment," he said.
"In these days of financial war we need national consensus," Van Rompuy said, adding that the only viable political answer to extreme situations was to restore credibility through "sustained and consistent action" both by member states individually and jointly.
He highlighted that the euro began as a political project, as "even the fairest and most inclusive ideal cannot survive without a sound and stable economic foundation".
However, Europeans should not forget the basic reasons for this enterprise, "which stem from values, from that idea of peace, democracy, solidarity and a social market economy which we call the European model," he stressed.
He said that Europe cannot survive on an idea of "I want my money back," nor on that of Europe as a source of subsidies, as "Europe is much more than this, and we need more Europe."