As we have pointed out repeatedly, those who think that the eurozone is one German election away from a full banking and fiscal union (which includes a surprising number of British eurosceptics) should have another look around Europe.
As we noted last week, the latest draft of the bank recovery and resolution directive left plenty of questions unanswered.
[Background – this is the proposal which looks to establish a clear and standardised pecking order for losses in the instance of a bank failure. It is not the full ‘banking union’ proposal, which involves some form of combined backstop. Despite being first suggested as far back as 2010 and with a proposal put forward last summer which was largely ignored, this has become an important piece of legislation since the Cypriot crisis.]
- One led by France, the UK and other non-eurozone countries, arguing for greater flexibility and national discretion – although presumably for different reasons, the UK because it fears its financial sector is larger and more varied than many in the eurozone and France because it is keen to keep open the option of a bank bailout due to fears automatic bail-ins could increase funding costs (souveraineté).
- The second group is led by Germany and the Netherlands, both of whom are keen to limit flexibility to allow for a standard framework across the eurozone and also partly because they fear governments will put domestic political needs above those of the single currency as a whole. This is a trust issue as these countries’ taxpayers may one day have to stand behind the continent’s banks.
Ignoring the technical details for a bit, the wider political dynamic at work here is fascinating. France is actually on the side of the non-eurozone countries. This is bending assumptions as it’s usually France that is the keenest on doing stuff at the level of 17 rather than 27, as Paris is proportionally stronger in that smaller constellation. Germany, on the other hand, prefers 27 to 17, for the opposite reason.
There seems to be good reason to expect some greater flexibility for non-eurozone countries, with the idea reportedly gaining support towards the end of negotiations.
Now, we don’t want to read too much into this but first, this dynamic suggests that France could actually find itself isolated within the eurozone (we’re looking forward to that FT headline). Secondly, as we have mentioned in the past, perhaps this is another indication of how Paris – who used to see the euro as a way to lock in Germany – is actually getting quite nervous about losing the UK as a balancing force in the EU.