Europe seeks to make progress on banking union
BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union finance ministers moved closer Wednesday to creating a single supervisor for their banks after France and Germany patched up their differences over the issue.
Recently, it seemed unlikely a year-end deadline would be met because of the disagreement between Europe's two biggest economies, but a deal over the coming days now appears within reach.
On entering the meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said `'we have of course made an effort with our French friends and partners to coordinate our positions."
His counterpart for France, Pierre Moscovici, said such a common position represented a big step toward a solution.
`'We have all the elements for an agreement here," he said.
Last week, France and Germany disagreed on the powers and setup of such a new body, which prompted Wednesday's special meeting on the eve of a summit of EU leaders.
The meeting could still see a fight between the 17 EU nations that use the euro and the ten others that would be invited the system, since the latter group worry their power will diminish as the eurozone countries grow ever closer in light of their debt crisis.
A banking supervisor is the first step in a broader plan to have a banking union, which could improve the eurozone's ability to respond to any new future financial crisis.
One of the seeds of the current crisis was bad real estate loans, which dragged down the banking sector in large parts of Europe and threatened to derail the governments that were then forced to bail them out. However, national supervisors have often been reluctant to play tough with their banks.
A common European supervisor, proponents say, would bypass national political considerations and do what is needed to keep the continent's financial sector healthy. Shoring up the banks has been seen as an essential part of avoiding a recurrence of Europe's financial crisis.
A two-day summit of European heads of state and government starting Thursday will seek to reach agreement on further measures promoting the banking union.
While France had wanted to have every bank in the 17 country eurozone supervised by the European Central Bank, Germany called for a more restrictive system applying to only the biggest banks. The two also disagreed over the responsibility of the ECB in deciding supervision issues and keeping those issues strictly separate from setting monetary policy.
But in recent days, French officials have said they would accept giving the supervisor authority over banks that are beyond a certain size.
The ten European Union countries that don't use the euro will be allowed to choose to put their banks under the authority of the new supervisor; some have expressed interest in that since it would be a signal to investors that their lenders are solid.
But countries, like Sweden and Britain, that don't want to submit to the new supervisor will be fiercely defending their voices in the European Banking Authority, which sets the rules for banks across the 27 nation union, regardless of currency. Those countries fear that a united eurozone machine could outvote them in the EBA.
The single bank supervisor must be up and running before other measures can be introduced: European-wide depositors' insurance; a single method for winding down bankrupt banks; and allowing the European bailout fund to directly help banks in trouble instead of lending money only to governments.
Finance ministers from the eurozone nations will also assess early Thursday the latest Greek initiative to lighten its debt load.
On Wednesday, the Greek debt management agency said Greece will buy back (euro) 31.9 billion ($41.5 billion) of its bonds from private investors at a third of their face value, lightening its crushing debt load and meeting a key condition to receive vital rescue loans.
But the deal will be costlier than originally budgeted, and must be approved by bailout creditors who are lending Greece the funds necessary to stay afloat.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)