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Monday, December 12, 2011

Capital Requirements

There has been a lot of speculation and a fair few misconceptions about what Cameron asked for at the EU summit - we addressed many of them here. One key point we want to flag up is his demand on bank capital requirements. According to the document obtained by the Telegraph, Cameron's demand was for unanimity to be applied to any plans for "maximum harmonisation provisions which prevent member states imposing additional requirements".

This clearly relates to the current EU proposals implementing the Basel III requirements. Here the UK is keen to push ahead, imposing stricter capital requirements on UK banks. However, the Commission could block this by stating that all member states must adhere to their minimum and maximum levels, to avoid distortions to the Single Market. This difference raises a few key points to keep in mind during the debates over Cameron's veto:
1) The UK government is not pushing for more or less regulation on financial services, merely more suitable regulation and smarter control. The EU is keen to punish practices which it sees as problematic, such as short selling and the use of credit default swaps, but when it comes to tackling a fundamental problem in the make up of the financial system it dodges the issue. This is mostly because the eurozone states fear excessive deleveraging, while they cannot afford to recapitalise the banks using public money. Valid fears, but it highlights the differing needs for the UK and European financial sectors.

2) Leading on, the UK has a much larger financial sector - solvency is therefore paramount. This point is clearly highlighted by the FSA report into the failure of RBS which was released today. The UK cannot afford another crisis and another series of bank bailouts. This is a concern and problem which the many in Brussels and in some national capitals seem to not fully appreciate. The lack of scope for allowing the UK to deal with what it sees as a key issue is hypocritical given the number of times which the UK has been tagged as an 'awkward partner'.

3) Cameron wasn't asking for a UK specific opt-out. He asked for unanimity to be applied allowing all countries the option to veto maximum requirements. This highlights how the myth of 'special treatment' seems to be unfounded.
Leaving aside whether he asked for the right thing and the viability of his negotiation strategy (and here there are clearly lessons that need to be learnt), the demand highlights the crux of the issue for the UK. It is not about stopping regulation on the city but about realising that in some areas the UK may see a need to tailor its regulatory system in a way that better suits its economic and financial circumstances - but under general provisions of EU law, rather than special UK 'opt outs'. Much of the media coverage and comments relating to this point have left much to be desired in the accuracy department.


Danack said...

Other than Mr Cameron negotiated poorly - any idea why were these requests were so objectionable to the rest of the EU that they decided to just reject them straight away rather than trying to accommodate them?

It seems to make no sense to me, as it's made implementing a Europe, rather than Euro, wide financial tax almost impossible to do with the UK being excluded from the 27 - 1 group. And I would have thought that the financial tax was more important than the details of certain aspects of regulation.

Andrew Smith said...

The best way to achieve "more suitable regulation and smarter control" is to do it at member state level. There may be international inter-governmental agreements as to minimum requirements when international trading is involved and cooperation is always a useful aspiration. But arranging one's own regulations ensure suitability and popular support, or at least popular acceptance.

Unfortunately the UK government has for too long accepted varying degrees of regulatory enforcement: the IMD was implemented and has been enforced in wildly different ways and one must suppose that similar outcomes have not been assured.

Solvency II has cost UK insurers hundreds of millions with the intention of meeting the imposed deadline. Recently a number of Eurozone insurers, believed led by French and German firms, petitioned for a deferral and it has been granted. That is unfair competition but HMG accepted it without a whimper.