The efforts of Mario Draghi et al could only ever buy a little bit of time for the eurozone's politicians. Between the European Central Bank's commitment to buy ailing governments' bonds and the European Commission's first steps towards a banking union, there was a sense in recent weeks that – at last – some genuine progress had been made. And it has. But as strikes and civil disturbances batter Greece, Italy and Spain, even raising the possibility that Catalonia might try to go it alone, all the signs are that the opportunity for decisive action is, once again, being frittered away.
First, Spain. Mariano Rajoy's budget for 2013, published on Thursday, might hit the required target for reducing the public deficit, hence the tentative lift in the financial markets. But the Spanish Prime Minister is still prevaricating over the request for a formal bailout. Meanwhile, the dire economic situation is exacerbating long-standing regional tensions that, at best, exemplify the depth of public discontent, at worst, threaten to break the country apart.
The longer Mr Rajoy delays, the worse the situation will become. He must use the space cleared by this week's budget – and by yesterday's stress test results clarifying that Spain's banks will need €60bn of the pre-agreed €100bn fund – to come clean about Madrid's fiscal needs and Europe's role in meeting them, and to rebuild the national consensus so evident in his landslide election victory last November and so woefully squandered since.
Hardly less concerning than Spain's strained democratic settlement, or the mass strikes in Greece, is the growing evidence that Germany, too, is using the recent lull to back away from its tough choices. Having – rightly – supported initial calls for a euro-wide banking union, Berlin is now, behind the scenes, busy trying to water them down. True, the proposals raise unpalatable sovereignty issues. But exemptions and delays are not the solution, and if investors sense that politicians are not as serious as they purported to be, it will take more than even Mr Draghi's newly expanded activities to calm the panic that will follow.