By default (or, rather, a series of near defaults), the president of the European Central Bank is fast becoming the most powerful person in Europe. Mario Draghi, who relieves Jean-Claude Trichet at the ECB as the euro zone’s top banker in November, proved at Italy’s central bank and Treasury that he has two qualities essential to running a central bank with one currency and 17 countries, five or more of them problem debtors: flexibility and temerity.

In August, Trichet and Draghi, acting as Italy’s central bank chief, sent Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a letter stating that the ECB would help Rome by buying stressed Italian sovereign bonds — exhibiting flexibility, while reversing a dangerous spike in bond yields. At the same time, Draghi displayed temerity by endorsing the ECB’s demand that Italy meet stringent fiscal conditions that included balancing its budget a year ahead of schedule. Even cheekier, the joint missive proposed that Italy privatize utilities and cut public sector wages and pensions.

Had Draghi and Trichet dithered, the euro zone might have suffered a recession-inducing crisis of confidence. Unfortunately, euro crises appear with the regularity of the Paris-Berlin shuttle. In mid-August markets were rattled by fresh worries that Italy, Spain and even France might not be able to fund their debt. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for closer European economic coordination and, more controversially, for European states to enshrine a “golden rule” mandating balanced budgets in their constitutions. They stopped short of advocating the one measure some see as critical to resolving Europe’s debt crisis: raising money to cover struggling countries’ arrears by issuing bonds backed collectively by currency union members. These supranational bonds (confusingly referred to as Eurobonds) would benefit disproportionately from the good credit of Germany and France and would portend closer European economic integration. Merkel, however, said that making the euro zone more stable was “a hard and arduous path which we will not be able to avoid by means of some magic bullet, like issuing Eurobonds.”

Draghi, on the other hand, had hinted even before this summer’s crisis that he might support such supranational initiatives, when he noted that the “aggregate” fiscal position of the euro zone is “actually sounder than in other parts of the world.” He has also made it clear that as ECB boss he wouldn’t be averse to giving assistance to countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, as well as Italy, but that he expects troubled states to sacrifice to dig themselves out of their fiscal holes.