The Great Debate UK
Sir Win Bischoff appears to relish a challenge. His brief spell as chairman of Citigroup was spent resisting regulators who wanted to break up the bank. If the veteran banker takes over as chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, his first fight will be with competition authorities in Brussels. This is one battle where it would be better if Sir Win did not live up to his name.
Neelie Kroes, Europe’s competition commissioner, says Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland could be forced to sell significant assets in order to win approval from Brussels for the vast amounts of government support they have received. Kroes has a track record in this area. Commerzbank and West LB have been forced to sell assets equivalent to about 40 percent of their balance sheets in return for EU approval of government recapitalisations.
The Commission has two objectives: to limit the duration of state aid, and minimise any competitive distortions that arise from public support. Typically, banks that receive state aid grow too big, too quickly, and have to shrink before they can stand on their own. The main question is how swiftly they should be forced to do so. Here, the Commission is prepared to be lenient. Commerzbank has apparently been given 2014 to sell its Eurohypo real estate division.