Monday, 31 May 2010

Commissioner Barnier’s bank levy proposal

The EU commissioner for Internal Market, Michel Barnier, also responsible for the EU package on financial reforms, issued an official communication last week on a European project of a bank levy with some relevance for the debate on the FTT. Peter Wahl has analyzed the proposal:

Very interesting is that Barnier makes clear, that he considers the bank levy not as a tactical manoeuvre to kick the FTT off the agenda. Speaking of "levies or taxes whose purpose is to recoup the public funds committed during the current crisis to stabilise the banking system or to tackle excessive risk- taking or speculation," he declares: "The examination of such measures should continue in parallel as a useful complement to the preventive funds that are considered in this Communication."

This corresponds to the position of France (Barnier is French) to consider both a bank levy and the FTT. Barnier had spoken out before a commission of the European Parliament in favour of the FTT.

There is some more quite progressive language in the Communication. For instance: "Political support is growing for applying the so-called "polluter pays" principle, known from environmental policy, also in the financial sector so that those responsible for causing it will pay for the costs of any possible future financial crisis."

The communication also takes on board the critique, that the bank levy would increase moral hazard: "The Commission recognises that this is a major concern which needs to be addressed by making it clear and unambiguous that shareholders (up to the value of their investment) and creditors (excluding depositors which are guaranteed by deposit guarantee schemes) must be the first to face the consequences of a bank failure and that resolution funds must not be used as an insurance against failure or to bail out failing banks, but rather to facilitate an orderly failure."

Barnier also is aware of the risk that a bank levy would be passed on to the clients: "It should also be avoided that increased costs are passed on to bank customers in the form of higher charges." Furthermore, the bank levy should be part of a broader framework of regulation which is able to "mitigate the implicit guarantees associated with institutions deemed ‘too big to fail’.

The communication makes already some proposals on the size of the revenues (2%-4% of GDP) and other details.

A detailed draft will be presented in October and the legislation process should start in 2011. The communication is also meant as an input to the G20 finance ministers meeting in Seoul in June.

Of course, it is by now only an official declaration of political will, and during the further process attempts will come up to water it down. Nevertheless, its general tone reflects the deep shock of the Euro crisis and an increasing awareness of European political elites, that they have to do more than they did by now.

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