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An EU and a Greek flag wave above the ancient temple of Parthenon atop the Acropolis hill in Athens on July 7, 2015. The biggest strain on the euro zone in 2017 will be, as always, Greece’s debt.

ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

The euro zone will start to crack in 2017, as at least one country will decide it's time to call it quits and leave the currency bloc.

As predictions go, this forecast may seem bold. Really, though, the monetary union has been inching toward collapse for a long time.

With apologies to Ernest Hemingway, how does a currency bloc fail? Gradually, and then suddenly. The year ahead is shaping up as the time when the euro zone's amble toward dissolution picks up speed.

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The single biggest strain will be, as always, the tortuous negotiations over Greece's mountain of debt. Beginning in October, 2009, when Athens announced that its official deficit numbers were actually, don't you know, an exercise in epic fiction, Greece and its creditors have struggled to find a solution.

The interminable back-and-forth illustrates some of the issues with the euro zone's architecture.

Basically, the European Union can't bail out Greece because it has no power to do so. Unlike a true federal state, the EU is an alliance of independent nations who don't want to be on the hook for each other's fiscal misdeeds.

Fair enough, you say (and so, with great fervour, do the Germans). But the lack of direct fiscal transfers means that any country in the euro zone that falls on hard times can't depend on help from more prosperous regions, the way that a hard-hit Canadian province or American state can.

Neither can a depressed euro-zone country look to a devalued currency for salvation. This is a major problem.

Independent nations hit with bad economic news usually enjoy a powerful pick-me-up once their currencies decline in value. A fallen currency makes their exports cheaper and therefore more attractive to foreign buyers.

But countries locked into a currency union don't have that option. Greece can't devalue the euro because it has no direct control over the joint currency.

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So what's left for Greece? It can only regain competitiveness by slashing wages and reducing prices, a slow, painful, deflationary process that essentially involves imposing a deliberate 1930s-style depression on the country for years and years.

Greeks, as you might expect, are unenthusiastic about this plan. Their howls of distress are now being echoed across the continent as other countries find that they, too, are facing some of the same problems as Greece.

Eight years after the financial crisis, the euro zone is still struggling to find its footing. In the third quarter of this year, the euro zone's aggregate real gross domestic product was only 1.8-per-cent higher than in the first quarter of 2008.

That's amazing – and horrifying. Modern economies aren't supposed to stagnate for nearly a decade.

The toll in human terms has been enormous. Unemployment across the currency bloc still hovers just below 10 per cent. It has been at that level, or worse, since 2008.

Things don't have to be this way. Despite being ground zero for the financial crisis, the United States has staged a nearly full recovery from its own downturn. Its jobless rate has tumbled to 4.9 per cent, half the euro-zone level.

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The difference between the U.S. and European experience demonstrates there's nothing inevitable about persistently high unemployment.

Unfortunately, the euro zone won't return to vigorous growth unless it makes major policy shifts – and those changes appear impossible to make given the firm objections of the continent's heavyweight, Germany.

So long as the euro zone remains locked into its dysfunctional model, it's a factory for discontent. The discontent now has a new focus: immigration.

The issue continues to fester as some of the euro zone's most financially distressed members, including Italy and Greece, find themselves swarmed by illegal arrivals from Africa.

Combine the social stresses caused by immigration with high unemployment and you have the makings of a political revolution.

"The Dutch will head to the polls in March and the far right, anti-EU Party for Freedom is leading in opinion polls," says Jennifer McKeown of Capital Economics.

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"Soon after that, we expect an early Italian election at which the anti-euro Five Star Movement would perform well. In April and May, the National Front's Marine Le Pen [another EU skeptic] looks set to make it to at least the second round of the French presidential election."

Ms. McKeown says she is not forecasting that an anti-euro party will come to power in 2017 or that Greece will default, "but the risk of these events is much bigger than consensus economic forecasts seem to imply."

Her caution is admirable, but may be overdone. The sheer volume and heat of anti-euro sentiment is swelling. Expect it to reach critical mass in 2017.

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