This issue has always been a potential dealbreaker: how will Germany’s politically powerful network of small public banks — or Sparkassen — sit under the bailiwick of a single bank supervisor? Until now we’ve mainly seen diplomatic shadow-boxing on the matter. But that fight is beginning in earnest.
As is the custom in Brussels, some ambiguous and unclear summit conclusions are helping spur things along. Chancellor Angela Merkel last week hailed a one particular sentence as a breakthrough for Germany: that the European Central Bank would “be able, in a differentiated way, to carry out direct supervision” over eurozone banks.
To her, that vague language was recognition that the Sparkassen would be treated differently — the ECB would concentrate on big banks and those that are facing troubles, and leave the rest to national authorities. Read more
Some issues to bear in mind when considering whether a European banking union is a realistic possibility. The difficulties highlighted are not impossible to overcome. But it would be a wrench.
1. Germans don’t like strong EU supervision of their banks. Berlin is fond of federal EU solutions. But it is even more keen on running its own banks. The political links — especially between the state and regional savings banks — are particularly strong in Germany. To date Berlin has proved one of the biggest opponents of giving serious clout to existing pan-EU regulators.
2. Germans really don’t like strong EU supervision of their banks. There is again some wishful thinking about Berlin shifting position. Angela Merkel did say she supported EU supervision. But there were important caveats. She referred to supervision of “systemically important banks” — which is likely to exclude the smaller Sparkassen banks and the 8 Landesbanks. To some analysts, this represents a giant loophole. She also did not explain what kind of supervision. Berlin may only support tweaks to the current system.
3. Germans don’t like underwriting foreign bank deposits. Another pillar of a banking union is common deposit insurance. To Berlin this proposal represents another ingenious scheme to pick the pocket of German taxpayers. A weaker proposal to force national deposit guarantee schemes to lend to each other in emergencies has been stuck for two years in the Brussels legislative pipeline. Most countries opposed it. German ministers say it could be considered, once there is a fiscal union across the eurozone. So don’t wait around.
Angela Merkel and José Manuel Barroso talk on the sidelines of Monday's EU summit.
The Deutsche Börse and NYSE Euronext exchange mega-merger is dead, the objections of competition officials prevailed, but it followed a tremendous political tussle in Brussels, full of intrigue and skulduggery. Here are some of the snippets from the final days:
The Merkel change of heart: A great mystery in this merger case was the deafening silence from Berlin. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was always said to be on the verge of intervening on behalf of the German exchange. But opportunities to say something came and went. Her reluctance was put down to coalition divisions and a complicated political picture in Hessen, the home state of DB.
But in the final days, Merkel did have her say, at least in private. Read more
Baltic Sea fisherman. Image by Getty
Has the UK lost its influence in Europe? That has become the conventional wisdom in Brussels after prime minister David Cameron last week spurned France and Germany by refusing to sign up to a new “fiscal compact” to further integrate the bloc’s economies.
A first indication may come over the next 24 hours, during which a group of bleary-eyed ministers will try to close an agreement on the European Union’s annual fisheries quotas. Unlikely as it may seem, the UK is expected to get its way because it has rounded up support from France and Germany.
The December fisheries council is one of Brussels’ quirky annual rites and arguably the world’s ultimate fish market. Working late into the night, European diplomats barter quotas on scores of salt water species – from North Sea cod to the nephrop norvegicus – to piece together a comprehensive agreement governing the fisheries of the world’s biggest seafood consumer.
As my colleague, Andrew Bolger, reported in Thursday’s FT, Scotland’s fishing industry is nervous, thanks to Cameron’s defiance. Read more
Journalists arriving early for the European Commission’s daily midday briefing Monday caught a once-familiar figure in the press room: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the former German defence minister who resigned in disgrace earlier this year after it was revealed he plagiarised his doctoral thesis.
The aristocratic zu Guttenberg , once widely tipped as a future German chancellor, was in Brussels at the invitation of Neelie Kroes, telecoms commissioner, to work on an anti-censorship initiative targeted at dictatorships blocking parts of the internet.
“This is not a political comeback,” zu Guttenberg insisted, on what looked a lot like the first step of his political comeback. Read more
German chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference Thursday
Our friends and rivals over at The Daily Telegraph have gotten their hands on an interesting document from the German government detailing its proposals for EU treaty change, and have helpfully posted it online (with an English translation by the Open Europe think thank).
Although the Telegraph focuses on its implications for Britain, there is a significant amount of detail on how Berlin would like to change eurozone economic governance, including yet another stab at enshrining bondholder “haircuts” in the EU treaties.
For those who haven’t followed the debate closely, there is now a closed-door fight going on about whether Greece really will be the only country that sees its bondholders pushed into losses – as the eurozone’s leaders have repeatedly insisted in their summit conclusions – or whether the bloc’s new €500bn rescue fund, which could come into place as early as next year, should allow for organised defaults.
Although almost all EU institutions – including the European Commission and European Central Bank – want to make explicit Greece was a one-off, the German paper makes clear they want to keep the door open. Read more
In a new article, George Soros warns German voters that they risk another Depression.
The Fed pumped dollars into European banks, Timothy Geithner pleaded with EU finance ministers to take quick action, and in today’s FT former Obama administration economic major-domo Larry Summers warned that incrementalism in the eurozone is akin to the slow bleeding of the Vietnam war.
It seems like the week the Americans jumped into the crisis surrounding the euro with both feet.
Now comes a compelling treatise from yet another major American economic thinker, financier George Soros, who has written in the New York Review of Books echoing Summers’ concerns about incrementalism and predicting that a common eurozone treasury is imminent – and may be the only solution to the crisis. Read more
Europe’s track record of getting its member states to abide by common debt rules is clearly a mixed bag. Perhaps not for long, if Günther Oettinger, the German energy commissioner has his way.
In an interview with Bild, the mass-circulation daily, Oettinger floats a new debt-busting plan which he hopes might succeed where past treaties have failed: countries with excessive debt should have to live with the mortification of having their national flags flown at half mast outside official European Union buildings.
The unconventional idea – acknowledged as such by the commissioner – “would only be a symbol, but it would be a powerful deterrent,” he said. Read more
Gerhard Schröder’s unexpected re-emergence as a voice for European fiscal integration may or may not change minds in increasingly eurosceptic Germany. But in our half-hour interview, the former chancellor made a pretty heart-felt case that the country’s leadership should be pressing ahead with pro-EU economic policies, even if they are unpopular.
Given the limited space we have in the daily newspaper, we thought Brussels Blog readers might be interested in a fuller account of his views on the issue. As we noted, Schröder was careful not to directly attack his successor, Angela Merkel, for her recent handling of the crisis – something done last month by Helmut Kohl, who unlike Schröder is a member of Merkel’s own political party.
But he did take a more subtle dig. He made the case that politicians need to push through unpopular policies if they believe in them – and then noted he paid the price for reforms in German labour and social benefit policies, collectively known as Agenda 2010, which are now credited with leading to an economic turnaround. Read more