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Banking union will make lenders safer – ECB’s Enria

The man responsible for leading the supervision of banks across Europe has said success in making lenders safer and sounder hinges on completing the banking union, particularly a European wide deposit protection scheme. 

The man responsible for leading the supervision of banks across Europe has said success in making lenders safer and sounder hinges on completing the banking union, particularly a European wide deposit protection scheme. 

Andrea Enria, who is Chair of the Supervisory Board of the European Central Bank, said the organisation hopes to see signs that there is “a bit more openness” to move ahead in this project.  

“Depositors must be sure that their money is well protected, no matter whether it is deposited with a bank in France, Italy, Greece or Germany,” Mr Enria said. 

“And only a European deposit insurance scheme can decouple this protection from the financial firepower of national schemes,” he said. 

“At the same time, it would instantly justify the removal of the remaining obstacles that still hinder full integration of banking business across the entire banking union,” he added. 

Banking union was proposed in the wake of the financial crisis in an effort to make the system stronger and more resilient. 

The first two pillars – a single supervision regime and a single resolution mechanism for dealing with failed banks – are largely in place. 

However, the third pillar – a deposit insurance scheme – has proven difficult to deliver, due to political opposition among some member states, including Germany and the Netherlands.  

They are concerned that taxpayers may be left on the hook for the failure of banks in other states. 

But this position has led to growing frustration among ECB and EU bosses who feel the three-pronged plan must be completed. 

Some hope of a breakthrough emerged this morning, with the German finance minister outlining proposals to break the logjam. 

Writing in the Financial Times, Olaf Scholz said the need to deepen and complete European banking union is undeniable and after years of discussion, the deadlock has to end. 

Although he did not address Mr Scholz’s comments directly, Mr Enria told an ECB Forum on Banking Supervision in Frankfurt this morning that the ring-fencing of national banking systems during the crash had led to a burdensome legacy of segmentation in the European banking market. 

He said as a result, banks cannot yet consider the banking union as their domestic market, as a truly single jurisdiction. 

“I am well aware that a political agreement could be difficult to achieve and take time to be practically implemented,” he told the audience. 

“But we cannot accept that the current segmentation of the market remains unaddressed. Hence, even without European deposit insurance, we have a duty to pursue the goal of a more integrated market with all the tools that we have at our disposal,” he added. 

Mr Scholz’s proposals were welcomed by the Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate on Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, Olivier Guersent. 

Mr Guersent told the forum he thinks the suggestions are a very good starting basis but under ambitious vis-a-vis what the European Commission think is necessary, as what it proposes is a reinsurance system and that’s it.  

“It has a number of downsides, but certainly it is a bold move, it is very welcome,” he said. 

“There are a number of ideas that are worth discussing and exploring,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Enria also called for further harmonisation of the European banking regulation rule book.

“From fit and proper rules for new bank managers to insolvency laws…we often have to deal with 19 different legal frameworks,” he said. 

“This makes European banking supervision less effective and more costly. So, we do need to harmonise regulation further, and sooner rather than later,” he added. 

However, Mr Enria also praised the success of the single supervisory regime to date, saying it had greatly helped to speed up the post-crisis repair of banks’ balance sheets. 

ECB pressure has led to non-performing loans being reduced from about €1 trillion five years ago to less than €600 billion at the end of last year.  

“In other words, we are approaching a steady state – we are not there yet but we are approaching it – and our actions now have to become more and more predictable,” he claimed. 

“In practice, we can only be predictable when we are transparent. Because only then will banks, markets and the public be able to understand our principles and policies; only then will they be able to anticipate our actions,” he stated.

“This is crucial. After all, banking supervision should be a source of stability, not of surprises,” he added.

Mr Enria also noted a lack of restructuring in the European banking sector, with consolidation not taking place to the extent expected in order to absorb the excess capacity that had built up before the crisis. 

As a result, he said, the system remains highly fragmented, with low interest rates putting pressure on banks’ margins and most managers struggling to reduce costs. 

This has led to a drag on the rollout of new technologies and as a result European banks lag their competitors, he claimed. 

The supervision boss also defended the level of regulation that has been put in place and the increased capital requirements. 

“The markets seem to feel that European banks have to deal with steadily increasing capital requirements,” he said.

“I strongly dispute this idea and believe there is plenty of evidence in support of my disagreement. Still, we have to address this perception and go the extra mile to provide clear targets and rules of engagement”.

Mr Enria also said other factors rather than tighter regulation and stricter supervision are to blame for lower bank profits. 

Many of these are related to how well, or how poorly, the banks are managed, he said. 

“So weakening regulation simply to give banks a helping hand would not solve the problem,” he concluded.

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