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E Pluribus Unum for Europe’s Bank Supervisors

STOCKHOLM – The European Union lacks an efficient supervisory framework for its vast financial industry, and the gap between what is needed and what exists is widening.

To pave the way towards European financial integration, the Financial Services Action Plan (FSAP) was launched in 1999 with the aim of creating a regulatory framework for a single financial area. The European Commission, hoping to speed things up, published a White Paper on financial services policy covering 2005-2010.

There has been clear progress on integration, as financial institutions across Europe have begun to realize the benefits of economies of scale. Yet the industry has acted more quickly than regulators and supervisors have been able to respond.

At first, banks’ cross-border operations were small, which meant that that they were mainly supervised in their own countries. But, over the last decade, major European banks have acquired foreign banks through such mergers as the acquisition by Spain’s Banco Santander of the UK’s Abbey National, Italy’s UniCredito of Austria’s Hypovereinsbank and Holland’s ABN-AMRO. This raised questions about prudential supervision, chiefly whether sufficient resources exist to check whether the institutions are financially sound. Nordea, for example, was created by merging four major national banks, and some 70% of its business is outside its legal domicile, Sweden. This is a process that is likely to accelerate.