Open Europe Blog

Today has been billed as the final chance for UK Chancellor George Osborne to secure a change in the proposal to limit bank bonuses across the EU.

It is true that any change to the broad political agreement (including the level of the ratio limiting bonuses) would probably need to be secured today – a move which looks unlikely. However, as we note in today’s press summary, the technical discussions over the specifics will continue for some months, presenting the opportunity to water down the proposal behind the scenes. Numerous issues remain unresolved such as: whether the cap will apply to all staff or just the highest paid, whether it will apply to all banks or only larger ones and, most importantly, whether the EU will stick with the plans to apply it to subsidiaries (both EU ones located elsewhere and foreign ones located in the EU).

So there could yet be room for some improvements to the proposal. There are also two other issues which have cropped up in this discussion: the possibility of the UK invoking the Luxembourg compromise and potential legal challenges against the proposal.

What is the Luxembourg compromise?

See below for a box from p.31 of our ‘Continental Shift’ report (really a worth a read by the way to understand the context of this and related debates) which explains the premise (click to enlarge):

It has been muted that Osborne could trigger this at today’s meeting. This is a last resort and seems unlikely – besides it is not clear how effective it would be in this case, as it is only a gentleman’s agreement.

Is the proposal open to legal challenges?

According to the FT, banks have been receiving legal advice and believe they may have a case based on Article 153.5 of the Lisbon Treaty, which says:

“The provisions of this Article shall not apply to pay, the right of association, the right to strike or the right to impose lock-outs.”

Article 153 is in the social policy chapter of the treaties. Currently, the legal base for the rule is as part of CRD IV, i.e. under financial regulation and looking to address financial risk taking. 

The Commission and MEPs have also dismissed claims of illegality, on the grounds that the rules do not limit total pay, but simply set a ratio on variable pay in an attempt to reduce risk taking, and it is not therefore social policy.

It looks likely that there will be some legal challenges, although from the private sector rather than the UK Government.

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