Open Europe Blog

Eurozone finance ministers yesterday took a belated step towards the key part of the banking union, the single resolution mechanism (SRM), with many reports suggesting that the broad outlines of an agreement have emerged.

We’ve written about the background to this extensively, see here and here for example. As a recap, a deal was expected to be completed by the end of the year so that the framework is in place for after next year’s ECB Asset Quality Review and EBA bank stress test. This now looks unlikely, with technical details being ironed out into next year, but there is still hope for a political agreement at the EU Council on 19 December.

What are the key points of the latest agreement?

  • The latest official draft of the plans was published early last week and things don’t seem to have changed massively.
  • A board of national resolution authorities will make recommendations on how to resolve banks (after the ECB as supervisor recommends the need for action). The Commission then decides whether the plans are adequate or not.
  • There will not be a centralised fund, at least not immediately. As in previous plans, one will be built up over the course of a decade to €55bn, through undefined levies on the financial system.
  • A network will be set up between national funds allowing them to lend to each other and take action when there is a crisis. This may be governed by a separate intergovernmental treaty, to assuage German concerns over its legality.
  • Taxpayer-backed funds remain a last resort, in particular European funds (either through the network or the ESM, the eurozone’s bailout fund), with bail-ins being the initial response. The plans for bail-ins, under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, could be moved forward from 2018 to 2016 to help appease Germany further.

What is still yet to be agreed?

  • Numerous points remain unclear, not least, who has the final say if the Commission and national authorities disagree. If it involves national funds, it is almost certain to be national authorities.
  • The exact process for triggering the use of funds remains unclear, particularly in a situation where the resolution process involves a large cross border bank.
  • More importantly, if a new treaty is needed, the details of this need to be thrashed out – as we saw with the fiscal compact, this can take time and will itself require a tricky negotiation. It also needs to be decided whether this will be incorporated into EU treaties, as is planned for the fiscal compact.
  • There continues to be talk of the SRM and its rules applying only to larger banks, similar to the setup of the ECB’s single supervisor.

Has Germany really moved that far?

  • Reports suggest a shift in the German position is the key factor behind the compromise. While Germany has clearly shifted a bit, it has also got plenty of things it wanted.
  • Looking back at the proposal laid out by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble in the FT in May, Germany has secured the following – significant national power, increased role for a board and less for the Commission as well as limited use of taxpayer funds, with no central fund. It could also potentially secure an SRM focused on larger banks and a quicker introduction of bail-in rules.
  • It has of course compromised on its view that the treaties need to be adapted, after its position took a blow somewhat from the recent legal opinion on the issue. It has found a halfway house with the intergovernmental treaty, giving it some further legal protection.

What would this deal mean for the eurozone?

  • As we have said before, progress towards a deal is positive. But the deal still suffers from some key short comings namely: the system will not be in place for the immediate aftermath of next year’s stress tests, the system is still reliant on national authorities and ad-hoc measures as well as suffering from constraints in terms of reaction time in a crisis. 
  • Any funds, be they national or European or ESM, remain short of what is likely needed to help backstop and resolve any large failing banks in the circa €33 trillion eurozone banking sector.
  • We remain unconvinced that this will be sufficient to break the sovereign-banking loop which has intensified during the crisis (breaking it remains the stated goal of the banking union) – national politics and money still has a huge role to play in this system.
  • An important point to consider is that, given the current setup of the eurozone banking system, bank bail-ins remain, for the large part, national affairs. While this is separate to the sovereign-bank loop, it does highlight the tight feedback loops within many eurozone economies and could intensify the problem of nationally systemically important banks. This may change over time but is not guaranteed.

What would it mean for non-euro countries?

  • The use of an intergovernmental treaty is interesting and could have ramifications. While it is far from ideal for the eurozone, it does side-line the potential influence and control of non-eurozone countries.
  • One potential upside is that the eurozone will not be able to force through its own institutions under the single market article (Article 114) which does highlight the limits to how far they can stretch this.
  • The ad-hoc part of the agreement does fragment the process and fails to provide a systematic blueprint for how future institutional changes will address the EU/eurozone conundrum.
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