Europe seeks to break logjam over regime to control banks

BRUSSELS Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:25pm IST

European Union flags fly in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels October 12, 2012. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

European Union flags fly in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels October 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman/Files

Related Topics

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, daughter of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, adjusts her flower garlands as she campaigns for her mother during an election meeting at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Election 2014

More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.  Full Coverage 

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU finance ministers sought on Tuesday to break an impasse over a new regime to supervise banks, but with much of the plan contested, the European Union risks seeing this centrepiece reform unravel.

So far, countries in the euro zone have attempted to contain the financial crisis with piecemeal measures. The banking union is a cornerstone of wider economic union and the first concerted attempt to integrate the bloc's response to problem lenders to win back confidence.

Finance ministers from the bloc's 27 countries met in Brussels to attempt to advance talks on divisive questions such as the scope of the European Central Bank's cross-border supervisory powers, which would be a first step in a banking union.

But ministers were sceptical that any deal could be reached as they entered the meeting. Sweden flagged what it believes to be a fundamental flaw in the plan and raised the prospect of a laborious change to EU law to set up the new system.

"The ECB could be the supervisor but then we need to consider a treaty change," Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg told reporters. "Either you must change the treaty so it's clear that every member is treated equitably or you need to move it (supervision) outside of the ECB."

Some officials are worried that the banking union construct is already crumbling in the face of powerful opposition both within and outside the euro.

Germany, the leading economy in the euro zone, wants the ECB's oversight restricted to top banks while Britain, the biggest country outside the euro, wants to stop the central bank from taking decisions that infringe on its interests.

The prospect that the scheme will be watered down threatens to undermine confidence in the euro and its flagging economies, recently lifted by a pledge from the ECB to support stricken countries with bond-buying if certain conditions are met.

"Britain's concern is legitimate," said an EU diplomat. "But the problem is how to give the United Kingdom a voice when it also wants to be able to block any rules it doesn't like. That's a political problem."

Making the ECB the supervisor for lenders chiefly in the 17 countries that use the euro would be the first of three pillars in a banking union and one EU leaders have committed to complete by this year.

At a news conference with Germany's Wolfgang Schaeuble, French finance minister Pierre Moscovici said agreement could be reached soon. "Work continues for a few more weeks to reach a definitive agreement, but France and Germany aim to reach the same objectives with the same calendar, the same method," he said.

But Luxembourg, which also has reservations about the plan, was less confident.

"I would prefer if we do good (preparatory) work even if this takes longer rather than that everything is quick, quick, quick and quality suffers," Luc Frieden, Luxembourg's finance minister, told reporters. "If it takes three months longer, it's no problem."

When supervision is in place, it would allow the euro zone's rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, to help troubled lenders directly rather than via their governments, breaking with the previous ad hoc approach where smaller states such as Ireland were left to solve their banks' problems alone.

Complementing this new regime of supervision with two additional pillars -- a central scheme to wind down banks and a combined means of deposit protection to prevent bank runs -- would complete the banking union, underpinning lenders and the euro currency.

GROWING ALARM

Some officials in Brussels are growing increasingly alarmed by British and German opposition.

"We don't want a banking supervisor that doesn't have any teeth," said one official. "It should not be a coordinating body. The final decision must be made by the ECB and that goes for small banks as well as systemic ones."

Britain has proposed a means for countries outside the banking union to stop the ECB taking decisions that could affect their interests. Since Britain would dominate this group, many countries see this as London effectively demanding a veto and oppose it.

Germany, which wants to keep primary oversight of the country's community savings banks, is pushing to limit the ECB's remit to systemically important banks.

It is also worried that the more banks are included in the scheme, the higher the potential cost when, as is ultimately planned, supervision is backed up by a central fund to pay for the closure of troubled lenders. Germany, Europe's largest economy, would have to foot a large part of any such bill.

The EU ministers will also discuss new rules governing the amount of capital banks must set aside to cover unpaid loans and other risks as well as a proposal, backed by Germany but opposed by Britain, to cap bankers' bonuses at three times their salary.

Late-night talks between country diplomats and lawmakers from the European Parliament about those rules failed to reach an agreement, according to one person who attended. (Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt.; Editing by Mike Peacock)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Election 2014

Election 2014

Kashmiris wary as Modi challenges for power.  Full Article 

Facebook's Performance

Facebook's Performance

Facebook Q1 revenue grows 72 percent on rising mobile ads.  Full Article 

Earnings Season

Earnings Season

Bharti Infratel Q4 net profit jumps 64 percent.  Full Article 

Monsoon Forecast

Monsoon Forecast

South Asia monsoon seen below-average to average in 2014 - WMO.  Full Article 

Solar Dispute

Solar Dispute

Green groups urge U.S. to drop solar trade case against India.  Full Article 

Oil Imports

Oil Imports

India to make May-July oil payments to Iran - sources.  Full Article 

Rice Exports

Rice Exports

India may cede top rice exporter spot under Southeast Asian price onslaught.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage