Eurozone agrees ECB banking supervision rules

 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bundestag (13 Dec 2012) The German chancellor welcomed the deal hours afterwards in the Bundestag

European finance ministers have reached a deal on rules for supervising eurozone banks, ahead of an EU summit.

Around 200 of the biggest banks will come under the direct oversight of the European Central Bank, which will act as chief supervisor of eurozone banks.

The agreement - a key step towards banking union - will be put before European leaders later on Thursday.

New rules on prudent banking are seen as vital to bolster the euro, as bank failures triggered the financial crash.

The measures are also aimed at preventing banking failures, of the type that happened in Greece and Spain, ending up on the books of eurozone governments.

Hours afterwards, eurozone finance ministers agreed formally to release a long-delayed instalment of 34bn euros (£27bn; $44bn) to Greece over the next few days, with a further 15bn later on. Athens has been waiting for the bailout funding since June.

'Core demands'

It took 14 hours of talks that lasted almost until dawn on Thursday for EU finance ministers to finalise the banking deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the agreement, telling the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) that Germany's "core demands" had been secured. "It cannot be praised too highly."

She has previously warned against rushing into banking union out of concern that Germany would face further financial demands.

Significantly, a large number of French banks will be supervised by the ECB but rather few institutions in Germany will, because of its fragmented banking industry, says the BBC's Business Editor, Robert Peston.

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This deal is a further example of how the eurozone crisis is carving out a new Europe less from choice but more by the need to survive.”

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European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hailed the deal as "a crucial and very substantive step towards completion of the banking union".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the agreement ensured "that the single market is protected for countries that are not signing up to the banking union".

'Significant transfer'

For months, the threshold at which the ECB would act as chief supervisor has been the subject of strained negotiations.

Under the deal expected to take effect in March 2014, banks with more than 30bn euros ($39bn; £24bn) in assets will be placed under the oversight of the European Central Bank.

Eurozone banking deal

  • ECB to act as chief supervisor of eurozone banks and lenders
  • ECB to co-operate closely with national supervisory authorities
  • Direct oversight of banks with assets greater than 30bn euros ($39bn; £24bn) or with 20% of national GDP
  • National supervisors to remain in charge of other tasks
  • Non-eurozone countries that wish to take part can make close co-operation arrangements

The ECB would also be able to intervene with smaller lenders and borrowers at the first sign of trouble, the BBC's Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt says.

Europe's finance ministers have taken another major step towards closer integration, with a significant transfer of authority from national governments to the ECB, he says.

The EU had already agreed that the ECB would act as chief supervisor of eurozone banks.

But the deal gives the ECB powers to close down eurozone banks that do not follow the rules. It also paves the way for the EU's main rescue fund to come to the direct aid of struggling banks.

It represents the first stage of a banking union - known as a Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) - which EU leaders believe can be put in place without having to change EU treaties.

While the European Central Bank will be responsible for the overall running of the SSM, it will be in close co-operation with the supervisory authorities of member states and the EU-wide European Banking Authority, which creates banking rules across all 27 member states.

European media reaction

"An important transfer of sovereignty and a decisive element in the integration of the eurozone." Beda Romano, Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy

"Excellent news for the euro. It really was high time to take power away from national supervisory authorities because they were under the influence of politicians." Ruth Berschens, Handelsblatt, Germany

"By agreeing to this major pooling of sovereignty... the Europeans demonstrate that they are ready to stick together to support bailouts of bankrupt banks." Renaud Honore, Les Echos, France

"Perhaps those who most understand the underlying ambition are the British, sensing danger for the City, and for that reason they are threatening to escape." Xavier Vidal, El Pais, Spain

But there have been some legal doubts about the subsequent stages - a joint deposit guarantee scheme and a joint resolution mechanism for winding up broken banks.

The UK, which is not in the eurozone, will not be joining the banking union but has won some protection against being marginalised when key decisions are taken, our Europe editor says.

London is the EU's main financial centre, and handles by far the biggest share of euro foreign exchange transactions. So the UK government is anxious to safeguard the City's powerful role and prevent its business leaching to a more integrated eurozone.

The UK and Denmark both have formal opt-outs from the euro.

The other EU states still outside the euro are committed to joining, and can sign up to the banking union in the meantime, although Sweden and the Czech Republic have made clear they will not.

Deeper integration

A report on far-reaching eurozone integration, by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, will be discussed at the Brussels summit later on Thursday.

But EU leaders are likely to avoid any measures that could trigger treaty change before the European elections in mid-2014, because treaty change is nearly always a thorny issue for the EU.

It took seven years for the EU to adopt the Lisbon Treaty.

There is strong opposition in Germany and other richer eurozone nations to any further taxpayer-funded bailouts of indebted banks and governments.

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 416.

    Why does it always take so long to reach these agreements? Faced with financial armageddon and the liklihood it could easily happen again, heads of state and finance ministers seem to be trapped in the headlights. Banking bosses still seem to be in denial that old practices and bonus payments are no longer acceptable. At least this is one small step in the right direction!

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 303.

    This is the best thing that has happened to the banking industry in Europe, or even the Western World.

    Banks are too important to the stability of a nation or nations to be left off the leash because they are always taking grave risks and think they are safe in the knowledge that they will rarely be prosecuted for misusing other's hard earned money.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 175.

    The more we centralise power into Europe, the speed with which decisions can be made gets slower. We need nimble, adaptive reactions with banking matters - so whilst these measures will superficially make things right, they fail to address the underlying issue.

    The Roman empire collapsed due to being over-stretched and unable to quickly react to emerging threats. Here we are 2000 years later...

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 116.

    If the truth is known, nobody has a clue what they are doing in the Eurozone.

    It is a case of...let's try this....oh that doesn't work....let's do this instead....oh no....that isn't right....let's try this instead...... In the meantime it costs everybody a fortune.

    It is a monumentally expensive experiment that won't work until there is political unification across the entire Eurozone.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 77.

    Some countries consumed more than they produced by borrowing from banks. But others did so through government debt.

    Next task: regulate the governments and their budget balance.

    Maybe that should be in the hands of an ECB-like institution, too, but with a growth target instead of inflation.

 

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