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OPINION

Against the tide: Two crises in one

Germany’s commitment to the EU project will guarantee bailouts for weaker eurozone members. But it’s a different story for hard-pressed central and eastern European states and their banks.

We now have two supranational European crises on our hands. Both are the ugly offspring of the global credit crisis.

The eurozone crisis springs from the fact that the sheer cost of financial sector bailouts for some smaller eurozone governments will make it impossible for them to finance and service their public sector deficits and debt. That will lead to such countries as Ireland and Greece defaulting.

The eastern European crisis results from the excesses of the credit explosion in the household and corporate sectors of many countries in central and eastern Europe, including many that are EU members. Much of the huge increase in private sector debt in the region since 2002 has been in foreign currencies (euro, Swiss franc, dollar and even yen). With the collapse of this credit (and housing) bubble, many eastern European currencies have gone south, increasing the level of defaults by households and corporations. Complete circle

What brings both crises together is that the eastern European banks that have made these foreign-currency loans to corporations and households are owned by eurozone banks (mainly based in Austria, Italy and Belgium). If defaults rise, losses for these banks will mount to levels that could threaten their survival, unless they are bailed out by their parent banks.