The short but important conclusions from the all night summit of Euro area leaders can be found here.
First the good news, four very important decisions were taken 1) A decision to eventually hand the European Central Bank direct supervision of Eurozone banks 2) A decision to allow, in principle, the European Crisis funds the EFSF/ESM to directly inject equity into troubled banks 3) A decision to waive seniority or preferred creditor status that Member States had claimed for the ESM, for Spain’s rescue 4) An agreement to activate crisis support for Spain and Italy through the EFSF/ESM buying bonds in order to bring borrowing spreads down.
At the eve of what is now being unofficially billed as the summit to save the Euro, things are not looking good at all.
To put it mildly, no one is expecting miracles from this summit. It would be enough if they can avoid this being a disaster.
The political space is now much smaller and the size of the economic problem now much bigger than at the last such comprehensive summit in March 2011. Despite this, the summit will devote far too much time on a highly ambitious political integration agenda, much of which is unachievable in the near future and devote far too little time to tackling the growing economic problems, where action is urgently needed now.
The Spanish bailout has triggered a big ongoing debate on the issue of seniority for public creditors. Certain commentators and market actors claim that it is because the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) sees itself as a preferred creditor that the announcement of a Spanish bailout has led to rising spreads. They say that seniority means that once the ESM comes in, it reduces the effective claims of the private bondholders in the event of a restructuring.
This piece exposes the flaws in this thinking both in the general case and more particularly in the case of Spain. We conclude that if the EU wants to rescue Spain, the trick is not to remove seniority from the ESM but 1) to remove all uncertainties around the future of the Eurozone 2) make conditionality more growth friendly 3) channel the bailout directly to needy banks without going through the sovereign.
Whenever the future of the European Union was considered in the past, at least in the last couple of decades or so, a crucial fault line that always limited progress towards an 'ever closer union' was the critical differences between the French and German approaches to the European Project.
Germany favoured a stronger institutional structure with more co-ordination and a centralized decision-making structure, France a more decentralized construction where groups of national leaders were the ultimate decision-making authority and the transfer of sovereignty to the centre was rather limited. This same fault line is now once at the heart of the discussions surrounding the Eurocrisis and the ability of the two countries to bridge this will determine the shape of Europe, in particular the Eurozone!
The EU banking system, as we have discussed, is facing a perfect storm. The sector faces unprecedented challenges and is in the midst of large scale changes facing grave uncertainties. At the same time, the European Commission has suddenly turned a rather old idea of a Banking Union into the new buzzword. As our new series on financial regulation comes online and we discuss the Banking Union proposals in the coming days, it is very useful to take a step back and reflect what banking is all about anyway.
It was while thinking this through that we found a forgotten concept paper on 'what a good banking system looks like' that we had first published in late 2009/early 2010. This concept paper highlights all of the most important issues in banking and what needs to be done to make it better serve the real economy and is a very useful read for experts and non-experts alike. We have reproduced it in full below, but it can also be downloaded in a pdf format here.