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The euro zone crisis seemed to vanish from the headlines for a brief moment as 2011 ticked over into 2012, but it is about to return with a vengeance.
The coming months will be decisive in determining whether European leaders can hold their increasingly fragile currency bloc together or will stumble in the face of a daunting set of political, economic and financial obstacles lined up in their path at the start of the new year.
In Greece, where the crisis started over two years ago, the government is in a race against time to agree a bond-swap deal with banks that is crucial to a new 130 billion euro bailout package from European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Without that package, Athens faces the threat of a debt default in March.
But talks with the banks and investment funds that are being asked to accept 50 percent losses on their Greek bonds to help pay for the bailout have dragged on for weeks, sowing doubts about whether Athens can really deliver.
"The risk of a disorderly Greek default is once again on the rise, with the threat of contagion to Italy and others," economists at Barclays Capital said last week.
Compounding the challenge, both Greece and France face elections within months that could complicate decision-making at the national level in two key states and thwart the broader bloc's ability to act swiftly at a time when pressure is high to bed down agreements sealed at an EU summit last month.
A key element of the summit package was a deal to funnel 200 billion euros to the IMF, money that could be used to offer precautionary credit programs to Italy and possibly Spain.
But the euro zone is struggling to get the 50 billion euros it needs from nations outside the currency bloc to meet its goal. A senior German official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that securing the participation of Britain, which has shown no inclination to contribute, was absolutely crucial.
Italian 10-year bond yields have pushed back above the 7 percent mark over the past week, approaching record euro-era highs, and both Rome and Madrid must sell bonds this week in the first major market tests of 2012 for the euro zone's third and fourth biggest economies.
And after years of frustration with the French president's shoot-from-the-hip style, government officials in Berlin say they are now worried about the end of "Merkozy," the most important relationship in Europe, in the middle of the crisis.
A cut in France's triple-A credit rating in the weeks ahead could also upset the delicate Franco-German balance, although some economists believe it could force the French to accept more far-reaching fiscal reforms, regardless of who wins the two-round election in April and May.
"It won't be Merkozy anymore. It will be Angela Merkel and (IMF chief) Christine Lagarde dictating policy in Europe," said French economist Jacques Delpla.
Fittingly, Merkel and Sarkozy kick off 2012 with a Monday meeting in Berlin to prepare an EU summit scheduled for January 30 that is expected to focus on efforts to boost growth.
That is perhaps the biggest challenge of all for the bloc. After several years of fiscal consolidation to push down debts and deficits swollen by the global financial crisis of 2008/09, the euro zone is headed for recession -- a factor that has pushed the euro down to 16-month lows against the dollar.
Even the bloc's economic powerhouse Germany is at risk of recession. Greece is entering its fifth straight year of contraction, with no hope of paying down its massive debt.
But restoring market confidence in the finances of struggling euro area countries and getting their economies working again seem like contradictory goals at this point.
"In the current market environment there is no room for using a Keynesian-type expansionary fiscal policy to boost demand in countries with low growth - the markets will simply not accept such a strategy," Deutsche Bank said in a confidential note on the crisis prepared for the German government late last year.
The big question is whether this buys Europe's leaders the time they need to overcome the formidable challenges they face in the new year.
Multinational drinks firms are among those planning for all outcomes. A Heineken spokesperson told just-drinks today (5 December): "Heineken is a firm believer in the euro and the eurozone. However, like every other international company of our size and scope, we are following the euro crisis closely and are updating our business continuity plans accordingly."
He said that Heineken has increased efforts to pool cash resources in countries that are considered more financially stable. The Netherlands-based brewer is placing a greater focus on storing cash resources outside of the eurozone, "in case European money transfers get hampered".