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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Third EU legal opinion of the week, this time on banking union: bad news for Germany?

It seems to be a week for big legal opinions in the EU. We've had opinions on the FTT, the EU’s short selling regulation and now on the European Commission’s plan for a Single Bank Resolution Mechanism (SRM) – a key component of the banking union.

We have noted the importance and implications of the others, but this might turn out to be the most significant - although it is far less categorical in terms of ending the debate.

As we noted when the SRM proposal was published, the plan is based on a significant legal stretch where the 'single market article' (Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU) is used to justify transferring bank resolution powers to the Commission. In particular, Germany raised concerns regarding this legal base, suggesting treaty change may well be needed.

In the meantime, the EU Council of Ministers' Legal Service had been tasked (by the relevant working group for the proposal) with answering two key questions:
i) Whether Article 114 TFEU is the suitable legal basis for adopting the proposed Regulation;
ii) Whether the delegation of powers to the Board envisaged in the proposal is compatible with the EU Treaties and the general principles of EU law, as interpreted by the so-called 'Meroni' case law of the ECJ (see here for some background on the case).
Those who have followed our coverage of the other decisions will notice significant similarities with the short-selling case for example, given that the questions focus around the use of Article 114 and the 'Meroni case'.

However, in this instance the legal opinion seems to mostly side with the European Commission:
"The Council Legal Service has reached the conclusion that the centralised decision procedure described in the proposal cannot be regarded as an isolated regulatory measure with autonomous purposes, but is conceived as an element contributing to an on-going harmonisation process in the field of financial services, without which its establishment would have no sense."
Essentially, the Legal Service shares the Commission's view that the SRM proposal is needed to prevent fragmentation of the single market and that it will be applied uniformly. It also notes that the SRM is vital to the implementation of the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive and the Capital Requirements Directive (the bank bail-in plans and the EU’s transposition  of the Basel III rules, essentially), while also arguing that, given the move to a single supervisor, a single resolution mechanism makes sense. Later on in the opinion, it is noted that the judgement on whether the necessity of an SRM set up in such a manner is ultimately a political decision – leaving it open to interpretation.

Furthermore, the opinion does contain an interesting caveat:
"The proposal does not contain a robust system to guarantee the budgetary sovereignty of Member States, notably throughout the transitional period during which the target funding level has to be achieved. Purportedly, during this period, the Fund will not have the necessary means to face conveniently resolution decisions and recourse to extraordinary means of funding might be needed…the Council Legal Service is of the view that the use of Article 114 TFEU as legal basis of the proposal would be contingent upon the introduction of an adequate system to safeguard the budgetary sovereignty of Member States."
This highlights that the creation of the single resolution fund could have financial implications for the budgets of member states (an issue which usually requires unanimous approval). This is especially true given that the funds built up from industry levies will not be ready for some time (up to ten years).

The FT notes that the German government has focused on this point and stressed the need to protect budgetary sovereignty. It has also suggested that the recent ruling on the UK short selling case actually backs up their position, given that it shows the limits of article 114 and highlights the limits to transferring new powers to EU institutions (we’re inclined to agree with them on this one). Today's legal opinion reinforces the German government "in its central legal concerns", says the German Finance Ministry.

It seems clear that this opinion is unlikely to settle the debate. Even if it is judged legally sound, the proposal remains hugely controversial from the political point of view. That said, with Germany still weighing up whether to try to renegotiate the proposal or push ahead with its own intergovernmental plan, this opinion could shift the balance.


Rik said...

Most legal opinions on these kinds of issues are a bit rubbish.
They should not deal with a yes or no in this sort of cases. They should deal with the question how to give a proper/stable legal footing to lower legislation.
As at the end it can only definitely be decided by the ECJ and probably for Germany its CC it would be better to go the safe way.
Which is another issue than with the FTT btw.

In Germany also if it agrees with its Constitution is likely going to play. Also in that respect going for a treaty change is likely the safe way.

Anonymous said...

Yet another example of the continual power grab of the commission If Germany can stop it all the better for everyone.