Open Europe Blog

Last week, the UK launched another legal challenge at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against an unwanted piece of financial regulation – this time, the bankers’ bonus cap. This comes in the wake of some favourable legal assessment from a UK point of view, on short selling and the FTT (though both those cases are  still pending), as well as a win on benchmark regulation.

The details on the exact basis for the challenge remain vague but the key points of contention seem to be:

  • The CRD IV legislation transfers power to the European Banking Authority (specifically the power to regulate wages in some form). When the EBA along with other supervisors was established there were clear limits put on the powers it can have, particularly ones transferred under the single market legal base (article 114). This was also a key point in the short selling case and one that the ECJ backed the UK on. Furthermore, the use of technical standards allows a significant amount of power to the EBA officials to set the boundaries of the cap.
  • The second key issue is the legal base itself, should something such as a wage cap fall under the single market legal base? Furthermore, should it even be allowed under EU treaties? This may come down to a question of to the extent to which the cap actually play a role in regulating the financial system (we would say not much).
  • The next issue is related to the above. The UK claims that the law is being enacted without any significant cost benefit analysis of its impact and that it remains unfit for purpose.
  • There is also an extraterritoriality point to be made potentially, given that all banks headquartered in the EU will have to apply the rules across their businesses around the world, thereby setting rules outside the EU. However, this home vs. host interpretation of regulation is not unheard of. (This obviously makes the plan flawed from a practical perspective although how strong a point it is legally is not clear).

This could prove to be another important case for the UK for a number of reasons:

  • It highlights a growing trend that the UK is aware it has significant legal recourse on EU issues which it does not agree with. Using this effectively will be a big part of future EU engagement.
  • As we have noted before, the EU is increasingly trying to push through a wider range of measures using single market articles. Showing the limits of this approach, as was done with the short selling ruling, will be key in defining the limits to what the eurozone in particular can push ahead with under the current treaties (though the cap isn’t itself a eurozone-specific issue).
  • If the UK is able to secure a victory or even an adjustment in the rules it will be significant since this is the first financial services issue which the UK has been directly out voted on – making it a key symbolic point.
Having said all that, on this one, the UK will have a tough time.

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