Germany Wins Small-Bank Resolution-Levy Cap in EU Rules

Germany secured a partial victory in its bid to shield its smaller banks from paying fees to the euro area’s new crisis fund, as the European Commission set a cap on the contributions.

In the system laid out today by the commission, the European Union’s executive arm, larger banks will pay the lion’s share of levies to fill the planned 55 billion-euro ($70 billion) common resolution fund based on their size and risk-taking. Smaller banks will pay according to a scale of flat fees.

“These new rules pave the way for an operational Single Resolution Fund,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s financial-services chief, said by e-mail. “The approach chosen is fair as each bank will contribute in proportion to its size and risk profile. It is also proportionate as the smallest banks have their own adjusted regime of contributions.”

Germany and European Parliament lawmakers have been at the forefront of calls for measures to shield smaller banks, arguing that they are unlikely ever to tap the fund, which is intended to cover the costs of saving or shuttering lenders.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble pushed for banks that present a minimal risk to financial stability to pay “no or very little levies” into the fund. “The proportionality of the contribution must be ensured,” he said in June.

Financial Stability

The Brussels-based commission has sought to find middle ground between their position and that of other nations, such as France and the Netherlands, which have argued that the burden should be shared and that all banks benefit from financial stability.

The debate has pitted countries with more consolidated banking systems against those with more diffused systems that feature lots of smaller lenders.

The resolution fund, which will be built up over eight years starting in 2016, is part of a new, centralized system, being put in place to handle bank failures. The euro zone’s Single Resolution Mechanism also has a board that will be established next year. The legislation underpinning the structure was approved earlier this year and states that all banks in the currency bloc must contribute to the fund.

Banks will begin paying levies next year, initially as part of national schemes, which will be absorbed into the common fund.

The plan is part of a push by the EU to make sure that “banks pay for themselves if they have problems, and not the taxpayers,” Barnier said.

Total Assets

Under the commission’s plan, banks whose total liabilities, minus capital and government-guaranteed deposits, are 50 million euros or less, and who have total assets of less than 1 billion euros, would pay a 1,000-euro annual lump sum to the fund.

The levy would increase in increments to 50,000 euros for banks with liabilities of 300 million euros or less, and assets of less than 1 billion euros, the largest category of institutions that pay flat fees.

Nations would have the option of raising the 1 billion-euro asset threshold to 3 billion euros during the transitional years while the fund is being built up.

The flat-fee system will reduce the amount small banks pay by an average of 70 percent compared with what they would have paid under the approach used for other lenders, according to commission data.

Savings Banks

The plans also include some special treatment of banks that are members of so-called institutional-protection schemes, a type of mutual guarantee system between financial institutions.

Banks in such a system would be allowed to deduct business they do between themselves when calculating their size.

These arrangements are used by community lending banks, known as savings banks, in countries such as Germany and Austria.

The Single Resolution Fund could be tapped to stabilize a stricken bank should other steps, such as wiping out some shareholders and other creditors, prove insufficient. This would buy time for measures such as asset transfers and restructuring aimed at winding down the bank, or finding a way to resurrect it.

The fund will have standing reserves equivalent to 1 percent of government-guaranteed bank deposits in the euro area.

The EU Commission plans include a limit possibility, while the fund is being built up, for banks to fulfill some of their obligations through payment commitments rather than cash.

National Funds

This possibility would apply in cases where banks are paying more into the euro area fund than they would have had to pay into a similar national fund.

The commission’s approach means that the largest euro-area banks, representing 85 percent of total assets, would pay around 90 percent of total contributions, while the smallest banks representing 1 percent of total assets would pay about 0.3 percent, according to EU data.

The commission also published parallel rules for nations outside the euro area that don’t sign their banks up to the common system. These nations will be required to impose levies on their banks as part of national programs.

In the case of the Single Resolution Fund rules, the commission’s plans are in draft form, meaning that to have legal effect the EU must still publish a final version after Nov. 1.

For the national rules, governments and the EU parliament have a six-month window to raise objections before the measures become law.

Commission officials have held a series of meetings with lawmakers and governments in a bid to remove potential obstacles ahead of today’s publication.

(An earlier version of this story corrected a euro amount to billion from million in the discussion of small-bank fees.)

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