Note: This is a longer version of what appeared as an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on the 1st of Feb 2013
After a year in which European Union policy makers spent much time obsessing about banking union, it is time to take stock of the discussion. The question today is not about the intellectual case for a more unified approach to bank regulation and supervision within a single-currency area such as the euro zone. That case is still strong. Rather, it is about if what is being pedalled as a ‘banking union’ will deliver the goods—whether it will help tackle the economic crisis that still looms large over Europe or not. Evidence is now stacking up that it will not.
The EU's banking union was sold as a means to break the "vicious circle" connecting weak banks and weak sovereigns—and to do so quickly. As a way to mitigate the risks that troubled banks pose and weak sovereigns pose to each other, however, the plan is looking more ineffectual by the day. Although the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) can inject capital into struggling banks, a number of caveats apply.