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ECB's supervisor role will underpin future of euro


Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Enda Kenny at the EU leaders summit in Brussels.

Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Enda Kenny at the EU leaders summit in Brussels.

Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Enda Kenny at the EU leaders summit in Brussels.

EUROPEAN Union finance ministers agreed this week to make the European Central Bank the chief supervisor for banks in the eurozone.

It is a move designed to underpin the currency and its financial system.

Speaking in Brussels earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny hailed the agreement by EU Finance Ministers, saying it was an important step towards a eurozone banking union.

What the new system means is that the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) will directly supervise banks with assets over €30bn, or which have assets equivalent to a fifth of their country's economic output. The three biggest banks in each member state will be covered.

Although national supervisors will monitor the remaining banks, the ECB can intervene if it sees a problem at any of the single currency area's 6,000 lenders even if they are much smaller.

Countries outside the euro are free to join the supervision scheme but so far but none have yet committed to doing so. A steering committee will guide the work of the supervisory body, which in turn is answerable to the ECB's Governing Council. This leaves the final say with the ECB.

Appointing the ECB as supervisor is the first step toward a three-pillar banking union. To complete the project, a pan-European agency will be set up to close down banks that the ECB identifies as failing.

But who should bear the costs of any such wind-down is contested.

Any agency would need to be backed by a fund to cover the costs involved in winding down banks.

A resolution fund provides emergency financing so that when a bank fails, those parts of the bank are kept alive to continue payments and lending while the rest is liquidated.

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But Germany does not want to find itself on the hook for costs associated with closing a bank in Spain, for example, which will make it difficult to set up such a fund.

The third and final pillar of a banking union is a combined scheme to protect deposits to stop bank runs. But this has little political backing and there is no prospect of such a framework in the near term.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) will continue to write pan-EU rules for banks but there will be safeguards on how it takes decisions to avoid the 17-country banking union or ECB ramming through rules over the heads of Britain or others that stay outside the union.

Disagreements will be handled by an EBA panel.

The new system will be up and running from March 1, 2014, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

"We have reached the main points to establish a European banking supervisor that should take on its work in 2014," he told reporters in Brussels, adding its job should start on March 1.

Mr Schaeuble said legislation for the bank supervision led by the ECB would be finalised following talks with the European Parliament by February 2013, leaving the ECB one year to prepare for its new task.

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