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(AP) - In a whirlwind of decision-making, ministers from the European Union's 27 countries agreed Thursday on the foundation of a fully-fledged banking union and approved billions of euros in bailout loans for Greece that will prevent it from going bankrupt. Both decisions are vital in bringing calm to crisis-hit Europe and strengthening the region against any further financial shocks.

Here's a look at the other key decisions made in 2012 to help Europe pull itself out of its trouble:

_DRAGHI DOES "WHATEVER IT TAKES"

Much of the credit for easing Europe's financial crisis goes to the European Central Bank under the leadership of Mario Draghi.

At the end of July, the ECB President said he would do "whatever it takes" to save the single European currency. The ECB backed that up on Sept. 6 by saying it would buy unlimited amounts of government bonds issued by countries struggling to pay their debts. The ECB's pledge instantly lowered borrowing costs for Spain and Italy, which earlier in the year had faced the same kinds of financial pressures that forced Ireland, Greece and Spain to seek bailouts.

_GERMANY EASES UP

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has also helped ease financial tensions across Europe by speaking more forcefully about the need to hold the euro together. Merkel's support is critical because Germany, the largest economy in the group of 17 EU countries that uses the euro, has the most to lose financially in any bailouts. Merkel has backed the ECB's bond-buying plan and has made conciliatory statements toward Greece.

That has paved the way for the so-called troika of international lenders- the ECB, the EU and the International Monetary Fund- to allow Greece more time to meet its targets and agree on a way to reduce the country's debt levels.

_SUMMER SUMMIT BREAKTHROUGH

The groundwork for Thursday's decisions was laid in late June, when leaders meeting in Brussels took new steps to steady banks and governments. As well as agreeing on the need for the single supervisor, the leaders got the ball rolling on creating closer economic and financial ties. This would involve giving the EU a say over national budgets as well as funding infrastructure projects in financially troubled nations to fight unemployment and boost growth.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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