What is capital markets union? Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president-elect, has embraced the goal of creating one for the European Union. But so far it is more of a slogan than a set of policy actions. There’s no harm in having a catchy term to encompass a myriad of specific plans, but the idea needs fleshing out.
The first thing is to clarify the goals. One is to finance jobs and growth throughout the European Union. Another is to have a financial system that is better able to absorb shocks. Banks are shrinking and so can’t do the job of funding economic expansion on their own. Nor are they good at coping with crises. Indeed, they often magnify them, as the credit crunch and euro zone saga showed.
The solution is to beef up non-bank finance – everything from shares and bonds to shadow banking and much else too. It is also to integrate further the EU’s capital markets. That will lead to greater critical mass and lower financing costs, as well as soften the blow of an economic shock by sharing the pain across a wider area provided risk is really transferred from bank balance sheets.
The phrase “capital markets union” is a conscious echo of the EU’s new banking union. But there are several important differences. Britain is not part of the banking union, but it should be in the capital markets union – the project wouldn’t amount to a row of beans if it excluded the City of London. And a capital markets union should not involve the European Central Bank supervising the EU’s securities markets on top of euro zone lenders. Supervision is certainly needed to stop market participants engaging in shenanigans such as manipulating interest or exchange rates. But that can be achieved mainly through existing national authorities.
So what then is needed? There are five main pillars.
First, deregulation. The EU is supposedly committed to free movement of capital. But there are still barriers. For example, non-bank lenders established in one country are not automatically free to extend credit across the EU unless they get banking licences in other countries. This gums up the flow of capital. Such restrictions should be removed.