A New Year’s Banking Union

BRUSSELS – Five years after the outbreak of the financial crisis, Europe’s economic and political situation remains fragile. A mild recession is expected in Europe this year, and unemployment is on the rise. Beyond deficit reduction, we need to implement a €120 billion ($155 billion) European investment plan, and deepen the European Single Market to unleash its growth potential.

But we also need other structural measures. The European Union must put an end to the negative feedback loop between individual member states and their national banking systems. Between 2008 and 2011, EU taxpayers granted banks €4.5 trillion in loans and guarantees. In some countries, the threat of bank recapitalization with public funds has resulted in a drop in market confidence and a huge rise in interest rates.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has taken decisive action to break this vicious circle. Moreover, there is now a consensus that the 17 eurozone countries need a banking union to accompany their common currency. The European Commission has proposed a single rulebook for banks’ capital requirements; mutual support between national deposit guarantee schemes; and Europe-wide rules for resolving failing banks that place the main burden on bank shareholders and creditors, not on taxpayers.

On June 29, European heads of state and government committed themselves to the creation of a single European supervisor for banks in the eurozone. This is good news for both financial stability and public finances: once the single supervisor is in place, supervision will be more credible and impartial, which is important for dealing with ailing banks and managing their return to viability.