Open Europe Blog

As we noted in our flash analysis yesterday, the European Commission has put forward its plans for a Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) which would oversee the eurozone banking union, manage bank resolution and enforce the recent bank bail-in plans.

The proposal seeks to move quickly and decisively to create a strong banking union but do so within the current framework of EU treaties and domestic politics. Unfortunately, it seems to have found itself in the worst of all worlds. The mechanism is unlikely to be large enough or responsive enough in a crisis, while it will not be in place until 2015 at the earliest. Furthermore, it is based on a significant legal stretch of the EU treaties, which has already raised objections from Germany and creating concerns for non-eurozone members (due to fears that the EU’s single market could be hijacked by the eurozone).

The German response was swift and hostile. At a press conference German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert argued:

“In our view the Commission proposal gives the Commission a competence which it cannot have based on the current treaties…We are of the opinion that we should do what is possible on the basis of the current treaties.”

Dr Gunther Dunkel, President of the influential VÖB (the German association of Public banks) added:

“We reject the creation of a European resolution authority for many good reasons …it is not up for discussion for us, that funds gained through the work of German banks are used to contribute to the rescue of banks in other Member States… [Furthermore] the SRM would require a change to the EU treaties to necessitate harmonised corporate, insolvency, and administrative procedural law.”

The FT cites an unnamed German official as saying:

“We would be willing to speed up the process, but then the proposal has to be realistic…The commission is behaving like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up everything into its proposal. It may be effective but it is not legally safe.”

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem was none too keen either, suggesting (in what seems to be a veiled insult to the Commission) that the new authority had to be “decisive, effective, and impartial,” adding, “It’s not completely decided what that authority should look like.”

All in all, a rather disappointing proposal given the numerous delays (it was due out at the start of last month) and the fact that it forms such an important pillar of banking union. The Commission’s inability to produce the full text of the proposal, making detailed analysis difficult, also provoked some understandable outrage.

There was also another interesting development on the banking front. The Commission yesterday confirmed the expected changes to bank state aid rules which will come into force at the end of this month. The rules mean that any bank receiving aid would have to present a restructuring plan in advance, likely with shareholders and junior bondholders taking losses. Any bank which accepts aid will also face strict limits on executive pay.

The move may seem innocuous but, as we have consistently pointed out, all other changes to bank regulation and supervision won’t come in for some time. This means that the new rules on state aid will de facto enforce some of these measures, in particular the move away from bailouts towards bail-ins. That at least adds some limited certainty but still leaves the banking union looking woefully incomplete.

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