As Europe struggles to contain its government debt crisis, the greatest fear is that one of the Continent’s major banks may fail, setting off a financial panic like the one sparked by Lehman’s bankruptcy in September 2008…

American financial institutions, seeking to inoculate themselves from the growing risks, are increasingly wary of making new short-term loans in some cases and are pulling back from doing business with their European counterparts — moves that could exacerbate the funding problems of European banks…

Turmoil in Europe could quickly spread across the Atlantic because of the intertwined nature of the global financial system. In addition, it could further damage the already struggling economies elsewhere.

“This crisis has the potential to be a lot worse than Lehman Brothers,” said George Soros, the hedge fund investor, citing the lack of an authoritative pan-European body to handle a banking crisis of this severity. “That is why the problem is so serious. You need a crisis to create the political will for Europe to create such an authority, but there is still no understanding as to what the authority will do.”