Risk #6: Europe

Note: Today is the sixth in a series of posts that detail Eurasia Group's Top Risks for 2013

While the immediate crisis has subsided, risk still emanates from Europe in 2013. First, the process of institution-building to address the flaws of the eurozone structure will continue to be halting, especially in light of major elections in Italy and Germany. And second, many eurozone countries face recession or stagnation, which could test the eurozone structure in new ways.

To be clear, as in 2012, the risk of a eurozone break up is minimal, primarily because the European Central Bank has made clear it will do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. But the muddle-through approach presents risks in 2013, just as it did in 2012.

Germany heads to the polls in September. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has gained the strong backing of the German public for her handling of the eurozone crisis, the current government will be loath to contemplate any major new institutional or funding moves that might upset the careful balance she has struck. The most pressing concerns are policies allowing the direct recapitalization of eurozone banks and the building of an ambitious fiscal and banking union.

Italy holds elections on February 24-25 in which anti-austerity and populist parties could win more seats. Such a government would likely struggle to provide political stability, the reform drive could suffer, and financing costs could again rise.

Beyond the political calendar, a number of factors could test the temporary eurozone equilibrium. If France fails to hit budget deficit targets, President Francois Hollande's government will probably have to enact additional spending cuts and some tax hikes. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is unlikely to ask for financial assistance from the eurozone's new permanent bailout fund absent market pressure. But should that pressure arise, Spain would ostensibly have to agree to reform commitments stipulated by the ECB's agreement to purchase the country's bonds in the secondary market. Those commitments are likely to be met with resistance in hard-hit Spain, putting the ECB in a quandary: If Spain refuses to meet the conditions, does the ECB loosen its requirements, potentially encouraging moral hazard in other member states, or does it insist on reforms and potentially withhold assistance that could cause a new conflagration in the eurozone?

Later this week, we'll profile Risk #7: East Asian geopolitics.

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