Standard & Poor's ratings agency stripped France and Austria of their top AAA ratings, and downgraded seven other euro zone nations on Friday.Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain were dropped two notches each; Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia each had their ratings cut by one notch as well.
Germany, the largest economy in the European Union bloc, was spared.
The agency said in a statement that recent policy initiatives taken in the affected nations were "insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the euro zone."Among the stresses cited by the agency were tightening credit conditions and rising interest costs for euro debt issuers and weakening economic growth.
Some analysts said the downgrades could drive up yields on other European government debt as higher borrowing costs creates more financial pressure on countries already stressed with debt.
However, others downplayed the impact of the downgrade in much the same way the U.S. had done when its rating was cut by the agency last year, saying it would create "bad headlines for a day or two" and then be "quickly forgotten."