MEPs give cautious welcome to EU-wide stress test results

Written by James O'Brien on 26 November 2014 in News
News

The commissioner for financial stability, financial services and capital markets union, Jonathan Hill, has told MEPs that the EU wide stress tests "delivered the most stringent scrutiny that European banks have ever faced".

Hill outlined to MEPs that the adverse scenario in the test conducted by the European central bank (ECB), "was the most severe anywhere in the world" and that over 6,000 officials and experts worked on the assessment.

He said the results confirmed the "significant improvement" in the position of  European banks over the past six years and that they "are much better placed to withstand financial shocks […] and the rigour and transparency of the exercise means the results are credible across the world".

He acknowledged that while "some banks still have work to do" the situation had improved during 2014. The ECB identified 25 banks with a capital shortfall of €25bn at the end of 2013 but by the end of this year, this will have fallen to €10bn in 14 banks.

The commissioner told plenary that should any public recapitalisation be necessary in the future, where banks cannot meet their shortfall through market sources, "burden sharing" by existing shareholders will be necessary and state aid rules will apply.

He concluded his statement to MEPs by saying that the results demonstrated "we have better capitalised banks, exacting rules and processes for their oversight, new tools to resolve banks in crisis [and] a powerful and independent banking supervisor in the eurozone".

"We have better capitalised banks, exacting rules and processes for their oversight, new tools to resolve banks in crisis [and] a powerful and independent banking supervisor in the eurozone" - Jonathan Hill

Hill hopes "to build on these foundations and turn the page on the financial crisis and focus on the pressing challenge of achieving growth and investment".

The results of the stress tests were cautiously welcomed by MEPs. The EPP group's Burkhard Balz said the single supervisory mechanism (SSM) must represent "a division between monetary policy and supervision". The SSM, together with the single resolution mechanism (SRM), are the two pillars of the banking union which make the ECB "the central prudential supervisor of financial institutions in the euro area".

He called for "bank risks to be borne where they are taken" and said "institutions in difficulty need a non-political and strict investigation and credible supervision".

Balz emphasised the importance of cooperation with national supervisors and the need for clear rules to avoid competition between competing supervisors to the detriment of banks.

Elisa Ferreira of the S&D group said the stress tests were "an enormous step forward towards the construction of a banking union". She highlighted the importance of the test criteria being equally applied to all banks "regardless of their size or the country in which they are located" for ensuring the credibility of the exercises.

Notis Marias of the ECR said that the tests proved that banks could cope "even with very difficult economic situations" but that bank recapitalisations had resulted in Europe "filling with armies of poor and unemployed".

He noted that since the beginning of the crisis, "€1.6tn was paid to rescue the banks", public debt has increased, depositors in Cyprus were forced to "bail in", and thousands of homes in Spain and other southern countries had been foreclosed upon.

Marias noted that notwithstanding this, banks are still failing to lend to small and medium sized enterprises and called for this situation to be addressed immediately.

Fabio De Masi of the GUE/NGL group said the EU was "taking people for fools" with promises that taxpayers would no longer have to "foot the bill for big banks".

He criticised the 'crisis scenario' as being milder in the stress test than that which occurred in reality and said "deflation was overlooked" in the test criteria.

Following recent media reports of intensive campaigning to the commission by financial lobbyists to prevent new proposals requiring the separation of investment and commercial banks, De Masi accused the banks of being "wimps" and of being "afraid of the market economy".

Molly Scott Cato of the Greens/EFA group warned that structural reform of the banking sector was still necessary and the size of individual banks needed to be reduced "so that no one institution can threaten the entire system". She added that the 'too big to fail' question needed to be addressed ahead of bank capitalisation considerations.

Hill acknowledged "the clear feeling [among MEPs] that the job is not yet done" and said he shared this sentiment. He reiterated his belief that the tests were credible and said the positive market reaction to the stress tests "was testament to the exercise".

Hill concluded by stating his belief that a healthy European banking sector "is one that supports growth and benefits EU citizens, businesses and societies as a whole".

On Wednesday, the ECB vice president Vítor Constâncio confirmed that eurozone banks will be subjected to stress tests on an annual basis.

About the author

James O'Brien is a journalist and editorial assistant for the Parliament Magazine

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