EU unveils blueprint to overhaul policing of banks

By Reuters Staff
September 23, 2009

European Commissioner in charge of Internal Market and Services Charlie McCreevy speaks during a news conference at EC Headquarters in Brussels September 23, 2009. The European Union unveiled its blueprint on Wednesday for an overhaul of the way banks and financial markets are policed, a central plank to new rules designed to prevent a repeat of the global economic crisis.  REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet   (BELGIUM POLITICS BUSINESS) By John O’Donnell

BRUSSELS, Sept 23 (Reuters) – The European Union unveiled its blueprint for an overhaul of the way banks and financial markets are policed, a central plank in new rules designed to prevent a repeat of the global economic crisis. It plans to create a banking super-watchdog, with power to overrule countries such as Britain, and a pan-European supervisor that would warn of early signs of crisis.

“Our aim is to protect European taxpayers from a repeat of the dark days of autumn 2008, when governments had to pour billions of euros into the banks,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday.

“The European system can also inspire a global one and we will argue for that in Pittsburgh,” he added, referring to the meeting of large G20 nations later this week.

The laws, which include the creation of a separate supervisor for insurers and markets, are set to give more say than ever to European institutions as Brussels tightens its grip on an industry blamed by many for triggering the economic slump.

The blueprint, broadly agreed on by EU leaders earlier this year, could erode the authority of Britain, which is fighting to keep control over the centrepiece of its economy, the City of London.

Paul Myners, Britain’s financial services minister, signalled that the new watchdogs should not be given more power than was foreseen in June, when Britain and other EU countries agreed to establish the new supervisors.

There is widespread scepticism in Britain about the raft of fresh financial rules that many there see as a German-Franco bid to undermine the City of London, Europe’s largest financial centre.

“The UK’s concern about the competitiveness of the City is legitimate,” said Simon Tilford, chief economist with think-tank the Centre for European Reform.

“We need to be sure that the new regulations, such as on supervision, are not motivated by a political desire to undermine the City’s position.”

BREAKTHROUGH
The chances that the rules will be watered down, however, are slim, said Sharon Bowles, the parliamentarian in charge of seeing through agreement on the new law.

“I cannot see any mainstream political group turning around and saying we don’t want the new supervision rules,” she said.

“If anything, I expect some may want to make it more ambitious by introducing, for example, a single pan-European supervisory authority rather than three.”

Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia hailed the new system as a “major breakthrough”.

The law puts Europe ahead of the United States, which is still bogged down in a wrangle over whether to give similar watchdog powers to the Federal Reserve.

Almunia said the so-called European Systemic Risk Board would spot risks that had previously been ignored, such as the rapid rise in borrowing in foreign currencies that happened in the run-up to the financial crisis.

Charlie McCreevy, the EU’s internal market commissioner, called on the European Parliament and national governments to act fast so the new watchdogs would be in place by “this time next year”. Bowles said that deadline could be hit.

Overhauling the way Europe’s banks and financial services are policed is part of a raft of laws ranging from the curbing of banker bonuses to forcing lenders to make greater financial provisions for hard times.

Backing from Britain will be crucial to plans to set up the new structures by the end of next year.

Britain is nervous because the laws will give more say to European institutions. The risk board, for example, which would be staffed by the European Central Bank and based in the German city of Frankfurt, is likely to have wide-ranging powers.

Diplomatic sources said Bank of England Governor Mervyn King could be given a prominent role to win British backing for the plan.

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