"Seventeen of the European Union's 27 member states share an economic and monetary union (EMU) with the euro as a single currency. Based on a gross domestic product (GDP) and global trade and investment shares comparable to those of the United States, these countries (collectively referred to as the Eurozone) are a major player in the world economy and can affect U.S. economic and political interests in significant ways. Given its economic and political heft, the evolution and future direction of the Eurozone is of major interest to Congress, particularly committees with oversight responsibilities for U.S. international economic and foreign policies. Uncertainty about the future of the Eurozone began in early 2010 as a result of the onset of a sovereign debt crisis in Greece. Subsequently, concerns spread that Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy also lacked sustainable fiscal positions. Fearing possible defaults, markets began demanding substantially higher interest rates for their bonds. The debt problems of these countries, while different, now constitute a serious risk to the European banking system, the viability of the euro, and the European integration process. Moreover, the debt crisis has intensified as the Eurozone economy stagnated during the second quarter of 2011, creating problems not only for Europe, but also for the world economy."
CRS Report for Congress, R41411