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New eurozone chief Centeno wants closer unity, fewer crises

Outgoing leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem, right, of the Netherlands formally hands over power of the so-called eurogroup, in the form of a symbolic bell, to Portugal's Mario Centeno during a ceremony in Paris, Friday, Jan.12, 2018. The euro zone's new leader says he hopes to use his term to bring the 19 countries that use the currency closer together and toughen their ability to weather future crises. (AP Photo)

PARIS (AP) -- The eurozone's new leader says he hopes to use his term to bring the 19 countries that use the currency closer together and make them more resistant to crises.

Outgoing leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands formally handed over power Friday of the eurogroup — in the form of a symbolic bell — to Portugal's Mario Centeno in a ceremony in Paris. Centeno's mandate starts Saturday.

"A lot has been done. We exited the crisis. But we have to face it, the job is not yet complete," Centeno said at the ceremony, describing a "window of opportunity" to deepen monetary union. "It is very important to meet our citizens' expectations and to build a more robust and resilient euro area."

Centeno met Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is leading efforts to bring the euro-using countries closer together. Centeno meets later Friday with French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

The eurogroup brings together the finance ministers of the 19 countries using the shared currency and was at the forefront of fighting debt crises in recent years.

Centeno takes over at a time when the eurozone is in far better shape. The eurozone economy is growing strongly, while worries over Greece's future in the bloc have subsided.

Portugal was among countries that needed a bailout during Europe's debt crisis. Centeno was credited with helping improve Portugal's economy in recent years as its finance minister, keeping a firm hand on spending while keeping left-leaning allies happy by reducing some austerity measures.