Markets have been more resistant to new shocks since the European Central Bank's offer to purchase the bonds of indebted countries, lowering their borrowing costs. No bonds have been bought, but the offer's mere existence has calmed markets and left the eurozone far more resilient than it was a year ago. Last month's indecisive election in heavily indebted Italy, for instance, ruffled the market for only a day or two. Such fears were shortly dismissed by ECB President Mario Draghi as only "the angst of the week."
European authorities, meanwhile, have ways to defuse bank runs, should they occur. If depositors start withdrawing money, the ECB and national central banks can replace the funds with cheap credit through their emergency lending programs — so long as the banks have securities to put up as collateral.
But down the road, the Cyprus precedent, even if quickly reversed, could come back to haunt eurozone policy makers by making depositors less sure about the safety of their money in case of trouble. It could also complicate creation of an EU-wide system of bank deposit insurance, part of long-term efforts to create a more robust financial system and prevent future crises.
Technically, the national deposit insurance scheme remains intact. The money is being taken as a one-time tax — little comfort to those who thought their money was safe. If another eurozone country runs into a banking crisis, a run on the banks there will be more likely.
"The damage is done," said Louise Cooper, who heads financial research firm CooperCity in London. "Europeans now know that their savings could be used to bail out banks."
The deal adds uncertainty for depositors and investors because it underlines to ordinary people that there is no EU-wide deposit guarantee. Insuring deposits is a national responsibility — and can only be done when the government has the money.
"Basically, Cyprus has not honored, at least as of Saturday morning, an obligation that is enshrined in EU legislation," said Nicholas Veron, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. "It clearly has consequences because I think there is a very clear message to depositors in Europe.
"It will not affect their behavior immediately, but it might affect their behavior in a future crisis," he said.
McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany. AP Business Writer Sarah Di Lorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.
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