Europe has in fact three deep-rooted problems, each of which is entwined with the other, and each of which reaches systemically into every corner of the continent. Alongside the deficit problem is also a banking problem — not confined to a handful of banks or countries — and a chronic growth problem.
First, banks: I was present in Paris in October 2008 at the first meeting ever held of the euro zone heads of government. The diagnosis of the banks I presented was of problems of liquidity but also of structure. But most in Europe at the time believed they were dealing only with the indirect consequences, the fallout, from an Anglo-Saxon financial crisis, and of course thought that a wayward Britain had allowed itself to be locked into the American financial boom.
They did not then know that half the sub-prime assets had been bought by banks across Europe. No one had yet fully appreciated the depth of the entanglements between European banks and other global financial institutions, or how big the banks’ exposure to falling property markets was. I remember the shocked looks which passed along the table when I argued that European banks were even more vulnerable than American banks because they were far more highly leveraged – and indeed still are.