10 days to save Europe's banks

7th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

As Europe races to rescue its banks, the EU executive on Friday gave governments 10 days to agree on coordinated plans to recapitalise lenders hit by the eurozone debt crisis.

The deadline comes as the governments of France and Belgium negotiate a break-up for Dexia, the first bank felled by the crisis, and French and German leaders meet on Sunday to overcome divisions over how to organise new bailouts.

European Union leaders meet in Brussels on October 17-18, when they must agree on plans to deal with a credit crisis triggered by Greek default fears, while working together to avoid unleashing a state-aid free-for-all.

To that end, the European Commission will offer guidelines in the "coming days" for EU nations to follow.

Backing a strong message of support this week from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an EU source said that on Monday the Commission would validate rules governing the new round of state aid.

That will then leave EU governments one week to draw up their plans in conjunction with the London-based European Banking Authority (EBA) before the two-day summit begins in Brussels.

The EBA is trying to estimate how much is needed to stabilise Europe's banking sector. The IMF has suggested it will be around 100-200 billion euros.

During Sunday's talks in Berlin, an understanding is expected to be reached between Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on how to shore up bank books -- either using public monies at national level, as after the 2008 US credit crunch, or using eurozone rescue funding.

"It is essential that there be coordination at a European level to determine three things -- the amount of capital needed, the timetable under which this level of capital be achieved and the tools to do that," France's finance ministry said Friday.

Diplomats said France, in fear of losing its top notch AAA credit rating, would prefer to recapitalise banks with the EU's rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, but the French official said this would be a "last resort."

He added: "There are several options in terms of public finance but we have not yet discussed this at a European level."

Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly also said the EFSF would only be used in a full-scale emergency, a stance shared by Germany.

Funding bank recapitalisation via EFSF is problematic -- not least because Slovakia's parliament has yet to ratify changes to the 440-billion-euro fund designed precisely to allow it to step in and aid banks.

In exchange for its green light, Slovakian politicians have indicated they may seek to impose new conditions on the use of either the EFSF or its post-2013 replacement, the European Stability Mechanism whose statutes also need to be ratified.

Banks have taken a hammering as investments in Greek and other sovereign debts have been progressively downgraded.

The commission's framework will cover the legal scope and constraints of recapitalisation -- rules designed to guarantee a level playing-field where state cash injections are involved.

Press reports on Friday night said the Belgian federal government had reached a deal with regional authorities, Dexia shareholders in their own right, on a plan to nationalise Dexia's Belgian operations "for several years."

© 2011 AFP

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