Posts tagged 'European Commission'

The EU versus Apple & Ireland

In the light of the foregoing considerations, the Commission’s preliminary view is that the tax ruling of 1990 (effectively agreed in 1991) and of 2007 in favour of the Apple group constitute State aid according to Article 107(1) TFEU. The Commission has doubts about the compatibility of such State aid with the internal market. The Commission has therefore decided to initiate the procedure laid down in Article 108(2) TFEU with respect to the measures in question.

Click for the full document laying out the case.

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The fatal flaw that could doom the European project

There have been many failed attempts to unify the European continent by force.

More recently, politicians have tried to do it peacefully, with some limited success. The European Union has an elaborate bureaucracy and an elected parliament that together oversee everything from cheese names to foreign affairs. A majority of the EU shares a currency and monetary policy, as well as a common banking regulator.

But these supranational institutions are becoming increasingly unpopular among actual Europeans. Moreover, new research presented at the semiannual Brookings Papers on Economic Activity by Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales suggests the traditional strategy for promoting integration has reached a dead end. Instead of “more Europe”, the trend in the near future may be the revival of nationalism.  Read more

When does an FX spot become a forward?

Don’t ask a European regulator. Or, if you do, don’t expect an answer any time soon.

We’ve written about the feud between the European Commission and the new-ish fangled ESMA before. Last time it was about the fact that no one seemed to be able to agree what constituted an “alternative investment.” This time it’s over a failure to agree a common definition of what constitutes a “derivative.” Read more

Regulators, eating themselves

Received wisdom has it that the implementation of new financial regulation in the wake of the crisis has been held back, or watered down, by furious behind-the-scenes lobbying by the investment industry.

But it’s pretty clear, in Europe at least, that the technocrats, be they in Paris or Brussels, have their own particular ways of making sure that nothing much actually gets done. Read more

Introducing the SRM, mangled at birth

Yep, another euro acronym that may or may not take real form.

Notwithstanding resistance in Berlin, President Barroso and his team in Brussels have published details of the Single Resolution Mechanism which the European Commission wants to see as part of an eventual banking union across Europe. Read more

Searching for common ground on a European banking union

With the EC set to outline its proposals for a European banking union in less than a month’s time, leaked documents detailing the initial discussions indicate differences of opinion remain as wide as ever.

A key area of contention seems to be delegation of banking oversight tasks. From Bloomberg (our emphasis): Read more

The (pictorial) European bank capital rules deathmatch

It went on so long even the translators gave up — there was sure some mud-slinging going on in Brussels on Wednesday as European finance ministers met to try to agree legislation to implement Basel III rules on bank capital.

One could be forgiven for wondering how this is even still a debate at all. Read more

Return of the Stability and Growth Pact

Don’t laugh. European politicians mean it this time. True, the Stability and Growth Pact turned out to be a bit useless and toothless. The lessons of the past have been learned and now there are newer, shinier, summarisier statistics on macroeconomically imbalanced countries within the European Union. As agreed by the European Parliament and Council last November, there’s also a new procedure that comes with the statistics. The aim is to catch nations before they get too far off the path of righteousness being more like Germany economic harmony.

The first slew of statistics under the procedure, or “Alert Mechanism Report” (AMR), was released in the middle of February. Read more

A little something for the finance ministers

The European Commission has published a short paper outlining three options for the eurozone rescue programme, ahead of eurozone and EU finance ministers’ meetings next week. Click on the image for the PDF:

EC eurozone rescue options document - screenshot Read more

ECB said to give ground on Greek bonds

The European Central Bank has made key concessions over its holdings of Greek government bonds, says the WSJ, citing people briefed on the country’s debt restructuring talks. The ECB has agreed to exchange the government bonds it purchased in the secondary market last year at a price below face value, provided the debt-restructuring talks have a successful outcome. The central bank won’t take a loss on the transaction, but it isn’t clear whether it will exchange the bonds at the below-par price at which it purchased them or whether it will make a profit, the newspaper says. The concession could reduce Greece’s debt by up to €11bn —  difference between the price at which the ECB bought the bonds in the secondary market and their face value. The sources said that another option was discussed for eurozone national central banks to also take part in the debt reduction exercise had been rejected. Greece missed another deadline to approve conditions for a second €130bn bail-out on Tuesday night, the FT reports, after a meeting between the country’s political leaders was postponed until Wednesday because of last-minute haggling with international lenders over emergency spending cuts. In Brussels, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, insisted that eurozone leaders would continue to strive to keep Greece in the euro, an apparent rebuke to Neelie Kroes, the Dutch member of his commission who was quoted in her country’s press as saying a Greek exit would not cause significant shockwaves.

Samsung in EU antitrust probe

In a further twist in the global legal battle waged by technology giants around the use of patents, Samsung Electronics is to be investigated by the European Union to assess whether it breached antitrust rules by refusing to provide rivals access to its technology at reasonable prices. Brussels will be looking into whether the South Korean technology giant, the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer but also a key supplier to rivals such as Apple, had distorted the market by withholding “standard essential patent rights”, reports the FT. The European Commission, acting as the EU’s antitrust enforcer, said its investigation stems from Samsung’s lawsuits against competing groups, notably Apple, launched in several EU member states in 2011.

EU may exempt pre-2013 debt from burden-sharing

The EU may exempt bank debt issued before 2013 from proposals forcing investors to take losses, Bloomberg says, citing a person familiar with the plan. The exemption could be extended if banks struggle to raise funds, but it would require approval from national governments and the European parliament. A draft proposal contains provisions for holders of senior, unsecured long-term debt – defined as maturities longer than a year – to bear losses before short-term bondholders, says the news agency, as well as powers for regulators to forcibly convert a bank’s bonds into ordinary shares. A European Commission spokeswoman declined to comment.

EC auditor reforms gain support

The European arms of the four biggest accountants are being threatened with a break-up under sweeping European Commission reforms to be unveiled on Wednesday, the FT says. Michel Barnier, the EU internal market commissioner, wants to split the profession’s “Big Four” – PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG – into separate audit and consulting arms in Europe as part of a package of measures designed to improve the vetting of accounts. A plan to force those groups to share work with their smaller rivals through “joint audits” has been dropped, but Mr Barnier won support for rules compelling companies to rotate auditors at least every six years. The Commission is also proposing stricter limits on “non-audit” work than are currently in force in the US, but the proposals could be altered before they become law, the newspaper adds.

European banks raided in Euribor probe

Several “major” European banks were raided by European Commission officials on Tuesday over interbank lending rates, the WSJ says, citing people familiar with the matter. The Euribor probe is an offshoot of a broader investigation under way for more than a year by prosecutors and regulators in the US, Europe and Japan into whether banks colluded to manipulate the London interbank offered rate. The says a list of the companies was not available, but the unnamed sources said they included a large French bank and a large German bank, and the coordinated raids took place in London and other European cities. Cedric Quemener, the manager of Euribor EBF, the group in Brussels that manages the Euribor interest rate, said he isn’t worried about the investigation because Euribor is based on information collected from more than 40 banks and was therefore harder to manipulate than Libor, which is set by 15 banks.

Europe to tackle HFTs

European regulators are to crack down on automated trading because they believe high frequency traders tend to pull out of markets at signs of stress, contributing to a sudden loss of liquidity. The FT reports the high frequency firms would be forced to post prices in key markets “on a regular and ongoing basis” even in times of extreme volatility, under draft proposals to be unveiled by the European Commission next week. There are large market-making firms that make markets and use algorithms to do so, such as Getco of the US and Optiver of the Netherlands. But they are unlikely to be affected by the proposals as they already post bids and offers throughout the day. The proposals are likely to provoke an outcry from some traders. They make no distinction between marketmakers, such as Getco, which routinely use algorithms to post prices continuously, and certain firms that use algorithms to carry out sophisticated trading strategies, or even asset managers that use algorithms to carry out trades over specific periods.

EU banks face higher capital thresholds

European authorities plan to set a higher than expected capital threshold for the region’s banks and give them six to nine months to achieve that level or face government recapitalisations under the auspices of the eurozone’s €440bn rescue fund, the FT says, citing unnamed officials. The European Banking Authority’s board of supervisors has approved in principle the idea that banks should be made to raise their core tier one capital ratios – the key measure of financial strength – to 9 per cent, well beyond the current expectations of banks and analysts, even after absorbing writedowns on the value of their sovereign debt holdings. Some senior officials at the European Commission, which is due to unveil its own plan for bank recapitalisations , support the higher levels and could announce their backing as early as on Wednesday. However, some members of the EBA board, notably the German contingent, are understood to have dissented, and no firm decision has yet been taken.


Big audit firms face Brussels onslaught

The business model of the Big Four accounting firms is under attack from the European Commission, which is pushing for tough rules that would force the firms to abandon their consultancy businesses and share audit work with smaller rivals. The FT says a draft regulation it viewed would force companies with balance sheets greater than €1bn to hire two auditors, including at least one firm outside the Big Four of Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. It would also prohibit auditors from working for the same company for more than nine years. aims to transform the accounting sector in the wake of the financial crisis and restore “trust” in financial reporting. It has the backing of Michel Barnier, internal market commissioner.

Athens fights to head off cash crunch

Greece will seek to persuade its lenders that it deserves another €8bn loan payment in a pivotal conference call on Monday as the government battles to head off a looming cash crunch, the FT reports. The call will pit Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister, against representatives from the so-called troika that crafted the €109bn rescue package granted to Athens last year. The onus will be on the Greeks to prove they are delivering the budget cuts and fiscal reforms mandated by that emergency loan – a task that has grown more arduous as a deeper-than-expected recession has cut into tax receipts. In addition, eurozone ministers at the weekend lowered revenue estimates for a proposed property tax, which the Greek government had hoped could raise about €2bn a year in 2011 and 2012. Greek officials estimate they have enough cash for the remainder of this month, and perhaps the first 10 days of October. An emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday showed signs of renewed brinkmanship between Greece and its rescuers, says the WSJ, as the country’s finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, pledged new cuts but also lashed out at eurozone countries that are funding the bailout.

Leaky (sovereign ratings) buckets

The written and oral evidence from the House of Lords inquiry into rating agencies is a veritable goldmine of information. Including the nitty gritty of how rating changes are made and disseminated.

On that note, we already know both the European Commission and the European Central Bank want to widen the current timeframe for ‘informing’ countries of a ratings change to three days. Under current rules they’re required to provide all issuers (sovereign and corporate) with 12 hours’ notice. Read more

Ratings logic at the European Commission — in selective default

What with the ECB on Greece, and Moody’s on Portugal, it’s been a week to remember the ancient adage (ahem) that “ratings don’t kill sovereigns, ratings users do.”

Predictably, the European Commission didn’t care on Wednesday: Read more

Roaming data costs to fall in Europe

The average cost of using smartphones and tablets when travelling in the European Union will be more than halved under new plans from Brussels that will delight customers but deliver a big blow to mobile operators, the FT reports. The strict regime of price caps on mobile phone roaming within the EU is to be extended by four years to 2016, the European Commission will announce this week. It wants eventually to abolish premium charges for roaming data and voice services. In a setback to mobile operators, which had lobbied to stave off further regulation of what remains a lucrative segment, new price caps will from next year be imposed on data downloads as well as on voice calls and SMS messages.

Greek recession to last until 2012

The European Union has warned that Greece will stay in recession for the rest of this year, upending forecasts of a return to growth in the third quarter.  The economy is set to shrink 3.75 per cent in 2011 and will show only marginal growth in 2012, according to the European Commission’s quarterly report on the debt-stricken country’s reform effort, the FT reports. Weaker activity this year on the back of the extra measures “implies a smaller growth rate – 0.6 per cent – in 2012”, the report says. Also in the FT, talks between eurozone governments and private holders of Greek bonds could last several more weeks as European leaders try to carve out terms for a new €120bn bail-out of Greece with “significant” private sector involvement.

Too early for Greece talks, Rehn

Reports that Greece is in line to secure a new €60bn aid package, possibly reducing the chance of a default, on Tuesday provided support to the euro, the FT reports. However the FT reports separately that Olli Rehn, Europe’s economics commissioner, said it was too soon to determine whether Athens would require more loans for next year, as he aired new details of Portugal’s planned bail-out. A team from the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF is set to conclude a review of Greece’s debt situation next week, which Rehn said would help determine “the next steps”. He urged critics to withhold judgment of that bail-out – and of similar ones for Ireland and Portugal – noting that Greece’s three-year programme has two years to run. Rehn said the interest rate for the European portion of Portugal’s €78bn ($112bn) bail-out would be above 5.5% but “clearly below” 6%, in line with rates for Ireland. The plan, to be discussed by EU finance ministers next Monday, envisages Portugal returning to the market before its conclusion.

Naked CDS and political nudity – a report

A timely piece of research, this.

Presented without comment, the European Union’s official – though unpublished – account on the nature of the sovereign CDS market, its impact upon bond spreads, both theoretical and empirical, with specific regard to Greece, 2008-10 in full.  Read more

Guest post: Wanted – a new carbon sheriff

Last month Europe’s carbon trading industry was rocked by a series of cyber thefts — including the stealing of €10m worth of European Union emissions allowances (EUAs), which took place in Prague. Daniel Butler, a broker for a Czech-based carbon trader, was instrumental in breaking the story. Here, Butler gives his view of the nascent carbon trading industry.

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Hackers cloud EU emissions trading move

In what is believed to have been the worst cyber attack on a national carbon permit registry yet, allowances worth about €7m were swiped from an account in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the FT reports.  The European Commission reacted by suspending trading for at least a week, or possibly longer. The extent of the delay will depend, in part, on how long it takes the Commission and EU member states, which control the registries, to agree security fixes. The suspension comes after the recent disclosure of abuse in Germany, where the scheme was exploited to avoid value-added taxes and news of a mishap in Hungary, in which used allowances were reissued. Even if trading resumes quickly, the episode is likely to undermine further a system that has long struggled to live up to policymakers’ visions.

Derivatives platform bypasses banks

A new type of derivatives trading platform would allow pension funds and industrial companies to transact off-exchange derivatives between themselves, cutting out banks that have long acted as intermediaries in such deals, reports the FT. The move breaks new ground in the push to regulate the vast over-the-counter derivatives markets. Reforms stemming from the Dodd-Frank act in the US and similar proposals by the European Commission require many OTC derivatives to be traded on exchanges and other types of platforms, and processed through clearing houses. The aim is also to reduce the role of big Wall Street and European banks that have controlled dealing in, and pricing of, OTC derivatives and to boost transparency.

From bail-ins to flail-in’ CDS markets

Or adventures in unintended consequences, bank burdensharing edition.

Last week’s bail-in proposal for bank debt, from the European Commission, marks a step-change for capital markets — so it’s no wonder there could be plenty of those known unknowns (or even unknown unknowns) to go along with it. Read more

EFSF 2.0

From Wednesday’s FT:

In parallel, we must ensure that the financial support mechanisms put in place last May are fit for purpose. The effective lending capacity of the current European financial stability facility should be reinforced and the scope of its activity widened. Here we need to review all options for the size and scope of our financial backstops – not only for the current ones, but also for the permanent European stability mechanism too.

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Brussels urges overhaul of fund

EUofficials have called for an overhaul of the eurozone’s two-month-old bail-out fund, the €440bn European Financial Stability Facility so that it can respond more flexibly to the fast-moving crisis, reports the FT. Such proposals have been debated mainly behind closed doors. But the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, is considering publicly endorsing the idea in a report to be issued on Wednesday, and the Commission’s influential economic chief, Olli Rehn, has backed it in an article published in Wednesday’s FT. A key proposal under consideration is to use the fund to buy the bonds of struggling countries.