Saturday 25 October 2014

Brendan O'Connor: McCreevy's role in Spain's crash

Published 17/06/2012 | 05:00

YOU'LL never beat the Irish. We always prided ourselves on our inordinate influence in Europe and it turns out that this is true. It transpires that we didn't just ruin our own country, but now one of us is in the frame for helping to ruin the whole of Europe.

As Spain teeters on the edge of needing a full sovereign bailout, one of the factors that could bring down the whole eurozone, Bloomberg has been pointing one of the fingers of blame for the current crisis in the Spanish banks firmly at our own Charlie McCreevy.

Until recently, he was effectively the EU's financial regulator, the guy who should have been enforcing its rules on banking and markets, from 2004 to 2010, when he was Commissioner for Internal Markets and Services. And all this time, Spain's banks were cooking the books, storing up their recent trouble, and apparently the bould Charlie was "one of the more candid advocates of Spain's approach".

A few years ago it was generally thought that Spain's banks had somehow dodged the financial crisis. This is because Spain's banks had been massaging the numbers to make it look as if they were doing okay when in fact they were making huge losses.

Dynamic provisioning was a way of using past profits to hide current losses. It was encouraged in Spain but was against EU rules and Charlie should have stopped it. But Charlie was quite the fan of this form of cooking the books.

Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil has dug up some great exchanges from a meeting of the International Accountancy Standards Board in 2009, where Charlie admits that he didn't pursue the banks for their dodgy accounting, though he should have.

He points out that Spain's banks "have survived the crisis better than anyone else to date". Charlie goes on to say that "I, strictly speaking, should have taken action against them for doing this" (the dynamic provisioning).

Describing some of the rules on banking as "ludicrous", he says of the Spanish approach: "It's worked pretty well for them."

McCreevy dates his support for cooking the books back to his youth in Ireland. "I'm old enough to remember when I was a young student . . . in my country that I know best, banks weren't allowed to publish their results in detail. Why? Because we felt if everyone saw the reserves etc, it would create a run on the banks."

Of course, this is the same Charlie who blamed the Northern Rock crisis on excessive transparency and regulation, while he was the EU regulator.

It's classic stuff. They put an Irish guy in charge of regulating the banks, thinking: "How bad can it be?" He brings his homespun wisdom to bear and supports the Spanish banks in hiding their losses so they keep going, triumphant as far as he is concerned. And now it could contribute to bringing down the whole continent.

Talk about exporting our problems.

Sunday Independent

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