Portugal appeals for urgent EU action

Overcoming the sovereign debt crisis once and for all is a critical test for the European Union, Portugal said yesterday, appealing for urgent and effective support to defend it against renewed market attacks.

Portugal has fought for months to stave off an international bailout after Greece and Ireland succumbed but there are growing doubts about Germany's willingness to support expanding or reconfiguring the bloc's rescue fund enough to calm investors and reduce the pressure.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates told a conference organized by Reuters and local TSF radio that the sovereign crisis was the biggest challenge to the European Union and the bloc's prestige depended on defeating it.

"I believe it's time to understand that the answer to this crisis must be European ... The response to this situation must be European, because it's a systemic problem," he said.

"The sovereign debt crisis is the biggest challenge the European project faces. The biggest challenge since the project was launched.

"Europe will not remain the same after this crisis, it will either advance or regress," he said.

Earlier, Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos told the same conference that Europe must take tougher action within weeks to protect peripheral economies against market attacks or efforts to overcome the weaknesses of Portugal's economy would count for nothing.

He said Portugal was ready to cut its budget deficit and implement painful reforms as promised.

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