Neelie Kroes’ campaign to ensure the European Commission’s rules over state aid are respected has remained in a high gear over the last few weeks. Three times the Competition Commissioner has spoken publicly about how restructuring plans for shaky banks bailed out last Autumn should be agreed with the governments of those countries.
This Tuesday she told the British Banker’s Association the truth. Royal Bank of Scotland made the largest ever corporate loss last year and yet was still saved by the government with a massive £20 billion plus rescue injection. One might ask how such an institution, so fundamentally important for the economy, could not be?
Kroes does not dispute that. What she does insist on is that such aid cannot be effectively propping up the bank indefinitely, allowing the balance sheet, and hence the bank’s business, to remain bigger than it should be, if it were not for that aid.
EC rules state that a restructuring plan to set out how this should be rectified must be made within six months of the aid being administered. After a while there is a danger that smaller banks, without aid, will be disadvantaged by their larger protected brethren.
Kroes is clearly losing her patience with the UK Government. The two camps have yet to resolve how Northern Rock will be restored to independence over 15 months after a draft restructuring plan for the UK’s fifth largest mortgage lender was submitted.