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After 3 Bumpy Years, Europe Turns Corner On Crisis

More proof the crisis is easing: Gatherings of European financial ministers no longer cause global stock and bond markets to gyrate with every sign of progress or a setback.

As financial-market panic recedes, euro leaders have more time to try to fix the flaws in their currency union. Among the challenges are reducing regulations and other costs for businesses in order to stimulate economic growth, and imposing more centralized authority over budgets to prevent countries from ever again spending beyond their means. That's important because a major cause of the crisis was Greece's overspending during the calm years after the euro's introduction in 1999, and Italy's failure to cut the high levels of debt it joined with. Other governments â¿¿ such as Spain and Ireland â¿¿ were saddled with debt piled up by banks and real estate developers during boom years.

Much of the credit for easing Europe's financial crisis goes to the European Central Bank, which has become more aggressive over the past year under the leadership of Mario Draghi.

The ECB said Sept. 6 that it was willing to buy unlimited amounts of government bonds issued by countries struggling to pay their debts. The ECB's pledge instantly lowered borrowing costs for Spain and Italy, which earlier in the year had faced the same kinds of financial pressures that forced Ireland, Greece and Spain to seek bailouts.

"Financial market confidence has visibly improved," Draghi said Thursday during a press conference.

The ECB's actions are reminiscent of the aggressive action by the Federal Reserve in the United States in late 2008 and early 2009 after the financial crisis hit. The Fed offered banks cheap loans and started buying bonds to ease long-term borrowing rates and boost the confidence of consumers and businesses.

The Fed didn't solve the problem of high unemployment. But its actions defused panic in the financial markets and helped restore the health of U.S. banks. The Fed bought time for the economy to begin to heal.

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