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One Big Union

PARIS – In the last few weeks, the idea of establishing a European banking union has become the latest remedy advanced as a solution to the long-running euro crisis. But, whatever the merits of a banking union – and there are many – proposals to establish one raise more questions than can currently be answered.

The motivations of those who advocate a banking union differ markedly. For some, particularly in southern Europe, it is seen as a means of shifting the burden of supporting their indigent banks to those with deeper pockets. For others, especially in the European Union’s Brussels Eurocracy, it is seen as another leap forward in the construction of a European super-state. Taking their cue from the sacred Rome Treaty’s reference to “ever closer union,” the European Commission’s theologians view every crisis as an opportunity to advance their federalist agenda.

The European Central Bank has been more thoughtful, though no less enthusiastic, arguing that a banking union should have three objectives. First, stronger eurozone-wide supervision should reinforce financial integration, “mitigate macroeconomic imbalances,” and improve the conduct of monetary policy. How a single EU supervisor would address the problem of imbalances is not explained, but it is surely a worthy aim.

The second objective should be to “break the link between banks and sovereigns,” which has been a particularly dangerous feature of the last year, while the third is to “minimize the risks for taxpayers through adequate contributions by the financial industry.” The third aim could be achieved country by country, but it is certainly arguable that an across-the-board banking levy, or a Europe-wide financial-transaction tax, would eliminate competitive distortions.