Commission welcomes Unicredit bank rescue fund proposal

Frankfurt skyline
Image caption Unicredit is discussing its idea with other big European banks

The European Commission has cautiously welcomed a financial rescue fund being proposed by Unicredit.

The Italian bank wants to set up the 20bn-euro ($25bn; £17bn) fund as a private initiative by Europe's big banks to help finance any future bail-out.

Internal Market Commissioner, Michel Barnier, said he found the plan "quite encouraging".

But he said it should be broadened to include the wider financial system.

Unicredit's head, Alessandro Profumo, is said to be discussing his idea with his counterparts at other big European banks, including Deutsche Bank, Banco Santander and BNP Paribas.

Pre-emption strategy?

It is unclear at this stage what the thinking behind Unicredit's proposal is.

Image caption The Italian bank may be trying to pre-empt Mr Barnier's own plans

But it could be intended to pre-empt similar proposals being pushed by Mr Barnier himself.

The commissioner wants a new European law next year that would require governments to set up national resolution funds to cover future bail-out costs.

These national funds would be financed by an obligatory levy on financial institutions.

Some bankers, including Deutsche Bank's head, Josef Ackermann, have expressed doubts as to whether they could afford this levy.

Size matters

However, at 20bn euros, the total size of Unicredit's alternative proposal is relatively small.

The cost of recapitalising RBS alone was £37bn in 2008, more than twice the size of the entire fund.

It is certainly a lot smaller than the network of funds planned by Brussels.

Commissioner Barnier has made clear that his proposal would be big enough to ensure the entire cost of future bailouts is covered by the financial sector, instead of taxpayers.

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