At the end of a briefly euphoric week, reality caught up.

On one level, Friday’s news was not really surprising. The French rating downgrade was a shock foretold. As was the breakdown in talks between private investors and the Greek government about a voluntary participation in a debt writedown. A proposition that was unrealistic to start with has been rejected. We should not feign surprise.

And yet both events are important because they show us the mechanism behind this year’s likely unfolding of events. The eurozone has fallen into a spiral of downgrades, falling economic output, rising debt and further downgrades. A recession has just started. Greece is now likely to default on most of its debts and may even have to leave the eurozone. When that happens, the spotlight will fall immediately on Portugal, and the next contagious round of downgrades will begin.

Europe’s insufficient rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, now also faces a downgrade because it had borrowed its ratings from its members. The way the EFSF is constructed means that its effective lending capacity will thus be reduced. Even though the French downgrade did not come as a surprise, the eurozone member states have no plan B for this, just a few stopgap emergency scenarios. They may decide to run the EFSF and its permanent successor concurrently. They may also provide the latter with a full immediate allotment of its capital. But this will create gaps in national budgets in a bad year.

By downgrading France and Austria but not Germany and the Netherlands, Standard & Poor’s also managed to shape expectations of the economic geography of an eventual break-up. A downgrading of all triple A rated members would have been much easier to deal with politically. Germany is now the only large country left with a triple A rating. The decision will make it harder for Germany to accept eurozone bonds. The ratings wedge between France and Germany will make the relationship even more unbalanced. [Read full article in Financial Times – registered users...](http://Original article (en)