Europe Moves To Tighten Down On Banks

The European Union appears to be heading towards centralized regulation of the region’s financial services industry.

From the Telegraph:

“It’s now or never,” said Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. “If we cannot reform the financial sector when we have a real crisis, when will we?”

Three new bodies are to be created with a permanent staff and powers to impose decisions on member states: a European Banking Authority in London; a European Insurance Authority in Frankfurt; and a European Securities Authority in Paris.

Each will be composed of chief regulators from the 27 member states. While they look much like the EU’s existing “talking shop” committees, they are in reality executive agencies able to set binding standards and impose their overall philosophies.

The Commission said the new authorities would have powers to “settle the matter” by imposing a decision – in effect, stripping Britain and other countries of the national veto.

While the proposals fall short of a pan-European regulator, they may have a similar effect. The European Court of Justice is to have the final say over any appeal.

Lord, what a nightmare. Imagine incorporating the political objectives of 27 countries into a regulatory regime. All that can possibly emerge is some neutered financial system hopelessly bound in regulatory red tape. Innovation will cease and you can pretty much count on anyone with reasonable financial skills hightailing it to whatever new financial center springs up (one will, count on it).

I suspect all of this will go down well with those in this country who have been crying for super-regulation. No doubt it’s going to be held up as the model we should aspire to and no doubt the Europeans will put more than a little pressure on us to play along. 

Now, before you start throwing comments at me, let me say that I am one of those in favor of smaller financial institutions. I think the major banks probably have their fingers in too many pies and need to be downsized if for no other reason than the fact they are just too big to manage effectively. Having said that, I don’t want to see the ability to innovate, create new financial products and take risk eliminated from the system. I believe you can have both. You just have to get a little creative and put away preconceptions in order to design such a system.

Make no mistake, though, if we follow the Europeans — or to be fair follow what appears to be developing in the EU — a vibrant financial system will simply spring up elsewhere. Like it or not we will use the products it produces but there will be one big difference — we’ll have less control than we do now. Sometimes the devil you know is to be much preferred.

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