less palatable reasons.
"I really do feel that Eastern Europe's problem is a greater weight on the Western European nations than the subprime is in the United States," Jeffrey Halley, senior manager for foreign exchange trading at Saxo Capital Markets, told CNBC.
Foreign banks vied to set foot in and to grow in Eastern Europe, with richer neighboring countries among the first to set up in a region where populations wanted a piece of Western lifestyle after 45 years of communism.
Austrian banks' exposure to Central and Eastern Europe now represents more than 60 percent of that country's gross domestic product, according to research by Credit Agricole – Cheuvreux.
Belgian banks' exposure to the region represents nearly 30 percent of GDP, Swedish banks about 20 percent, Greek banks less than 20 percent and Dutch and Swiss banks' exposure makes up around 10 percent of their GDP. Italian, German, French and British banks are also present in Central and Eastern Europe, but on a smaller scale.
"We're still worried about those European banking exposures to Eastern Europe," Dominick Stephens, research economist at Westpac Institutional Bank, said after a G20 meeting in London boosted the reserves of the International Monetary Fund to help fight the crisis.
Risk-Free Carry Trade
As Western banks grew their presence in the region they started to lend at double-digit interest rates, while the cost of the money they borrowed was in the lower part of single digits, since it was coming from rich parent companies in the West.
It was an apparently risk-free carry trade in which euros, Swiss francs and dollars became the norm for loans in many Eastern European countries, where volatile local currencies had never enjoyed much acclaim since communism fell 20 years ago.
People rushed to take the loans, spurring an unprecedented boom in consumption and in the real-estate sector, with house prices advancing by as much as 500 percent in a few years in some countries.
Both foreign bankers and local authorities appeared to brush off the fact that salaries were still paid in zlotys, forints, lei or crowns. The logic was that the countries would join the euro as soon as the criteria were met.
Even in countries with fixed pegs to the euro, such as Bulgaria and the three Baltic states, lending in foreign currency instead of the local money was far more popular.