Brussels, 22 September 2010
Financial Supervision Package - Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is reform of financial supervision needed?
Following the onset of the crisis, Commission President Barroso summoned a high level group of experts in financial services in October 2008 to advise on the future of European financial regulation and supervision.
Chaired by Jacques de Larosière, former President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the group identified some serious shortcomings in the existing system of financial supervision in Europe. There is a Single Market, they said, and financial institutions operate across borders, but supervision remains mostly at national level, uneven and often uncoordinated.
They concluded that a stronger financial sector in the EU in the future needed to have convergence between Member States on technical rules, and a mechanism for ensuring agreement and co-ordination between national supervisors of the same cross-border institution or in colleges of supervisors. A rapid and effective mechanism to ensure consistent application of rules would also be necessary, as well as co-ordinated decision-making in some areas in emergency situations. They concluded the current advisory financial services committees was not sufficiently equipped to carry out these functions.
Based on this report, the European Commission brought forward proposals in September 2009 (see IP/09/1347).. On 22 September 2010, the European Parliament – following agreement by all Member States - voted through a new supervisory framework for financial regulation in Europe that will come into force in January 2011.
2. What is the current situation?
There are already three financial services committees at EU level, but in contrast to the new European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) that will now be established, these committees have advisory powers and can only issue non-binding guidelines and recommendations. National supervisors of cross-border groups must co-operate within colleges of supervisors, but if they cannot agree, there is no mechanism to resolve issues. Many technical rules are determined at Member State level, and there is considerable variation between Member States. Even where rules are harmonised, application can be inconsistent. This fragmented supervision undermines the Single Market, imposes extra costs for financial institutions, and increases the likelihood of failure of financial institutions with potentially additional costs for taxpayers.
3. What are the key elements of the new European financial supervisory framework?
This framework will consist of a new European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) and three new European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) for the financial services sector: A European Banking Authority (EBA) based in London, a European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) in Frankfurt and a European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in Paris. The new authorities will be made up of the 27 national supervisors. This framework is to give Europe the control tower and the radar screens it needs to detect the risks which can accumulate across the financial system as we witnessed in the run up to and at the height of the financial crisis.
Figure 1: Outline of the new European supervisory framework
4. How will the new European supervisory authorities work?
A European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) will be established which will monitor and assess potential threats to financial stability that arise from macro-economic developments and from developments within the financial system as a whole ("macro-prudential supervision"). To this end, the ESRB will provide an early warning of system-wide risks that may be building up and, where necessary, issue recommendations for action to deal with these risks. The creation of the ESRB will address one of the fundamental weaknesses highlighted by the crisis, which is the vulnerability of the financial system to interconnected, complex, sectoral and cross-sectoral systemic risks.
The three new European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) will work in a network and in tandem with the existing national supervisory authorities to safeguard financial soundness at the level of individual financial firms and protect consumers of financial services ("micro-prudential supervision"). The new European network will combine nationally based supervision of firms with strong coordination at European level so as to foster harmonised rules as well as coherent supervisory practice and enforcement. The European Authorities will have the power to:
draw up specific rules for national authorities and financial institutions;
develop technical standards, guidelines and recommendations.
monitor how rules are being enforced by national supervisory authorities (NSAs)
take action in emergencies, including the banning of certain products;
mediate and settle disputes between national supervisors,
ensure the consistent application of EU law, and
where necessary, the new Authorities will have the possibility of settling disagreements between national authorities, in particular in areas that require cooperation, coordination or joint decision-making by supervisory authorities from more than one Member State.
Mechanisms, such as Joint Committees, will be introduced to ensure agreement and co-ordination between national supervisors of the same cross-border institution or in colleges of supervisors. For example, the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the new European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) are to form a Joint Committee (see figure 2) to oversee cooperation and coordination between national supervisors in the case of financial conglomerates (see MEMO/10/376).
Finally, the ESMA will be entrusted with direct supervisory powers over credit rating agencies registered in the EU and have the power to request information, to launch investigations, and to perform on-site inspections. Further powers may be transferred to the new European Supervisory Authorities in the future, in particular in the area of financial infrastructures, but only if Member States and the European Parliament agree to do so (see question 14 for more detail).
Figure 2: the European Supervisory Authorities will work closely with the national supervising authorities (NSA)
5. Is it not the case that the activities of the Authorities have been broadened, but the actual powers have been reduced?
No. The activities of the Authorities have indeed been widened but they will retain teeth, i.e. they will still have binding decision-making powers vis-à-vis national authorities and, in certain circumstances vis-à-vis financial institutions too. They will be able to arbitrate between national authorities and propose technical standards to form a common rulebook.
6. How does the new supervisory architecture fit in with other financial reforms?
In response to the crisis, and drawing the lessons from it, the Commission is bringing forward a comprehensive set of proposals to tackle various legislative gaps which contributed to the last financial crisis. These were set out as a global package of reforms in June 2010 in a Communication called “Regulating financial services for growth” which can be found at:
The package of reforms was endorsed by all European heads of state and government and is consistent with the EU’s G20 commitments.
The aim is for this package of reforms to be adopted by the legislature by the end of 2011, so that they can enter into force by the end of 2012.
The reform of the supervisory architecture is the lynchpin of this programme, and without the new European Authorities in place, many of our planned reforms would not be able to have their full effect.
7. Who will ultimately benefit from these financial reforms?
The result of the negotiations will be a stronger, safer and sounder financial system in Europe. The ultimate winners will be the people and businesses of Europe, as they will have their money better looked after. The new framework should also make Europe a more attractive place for investors and financial institutions as it will be a sounder and more secure level-playing field.
8. What are the main differences between the final version and the Commission's original proposals?
The broad thrust of the original Commission proposal is reflected in the final compromise. From the Commission’s perspective, some elements of the final compromise are improvements compared to the original proposals, for example the possibility for the new Authorities to temporarily ban or restrict certain financial activities, such as short selling for example, in emergency situations. This is an important development which will help foster greater financial stability.
9. What is the "single rule book" and how will new technical standards contribute to it?
In order to strengthen the reforms of the European supervisory architecture, a single European rulebook is needed. This should provide a common legal basis for supervisory action in the EU - ensuring strengthened stability, equal treatment, lower compliance costs for companies as well as removing opportunities for regulatory arbitrage. Such efforts do not require full harmonisation of all aspects of EU legislation, but rather focus on one harmonised core set of key standards.
To this end, differences in the national transposition of EU law stemming from exceptions, derogations, additions or ambiguities in current directives must be identified and removed, so that this core set of key standards can be defined and applied in a harmonised manner throughout the EU by all supervisors. The new European Supervisory Authorities should contribute to this process by developing technical standards.
Technical standards could determine for example the formats in which financial institutions have to report information to the supervisors (this would be a big improvement for cross-border companies who currently have to comply with different rules in every Member State they operate in), or the procedures according to which national supervisors will cooperate. A single European rulebook composed of such harmonised technical standards should provide a common legal basis for supervisory action in the EU - ensuring strengthened stability, equal treatment, lower compliance costs as well removing possibilities for regulatory arbitrage.
10. Isn't the procedure for adopting technical standards almost as complicated as full legislation now?
No – it can be very simple: the Authorities – whose Boards are made up of the supervisors of each Member State - prepare a draft, and the European Commission can adopt that draft without any modifications. In some cases this is the end of the procedure, in others the standards can only enter into force if Member States and the European Parliament do not object to them within three months.
11. Can the new European Authorities order a Member State to bail out a bank?
No. This is precisely the kind of decision which could have major fiscal consequences for a Member State and could be prevented by the fiscal safeguard clause described in the question below.
12. Does this mean the end of supervision at national level? Are these reforms a first step towards full-fledged European supervision?
No, day-to-day supervision is best done at national level, close to the ground, where appropriate expertise can be found. There will always be a pivotal role for national supervisors. The proposed system is a "hub and spoke" type of network of EU and national bodies. The new authorities will act only where there is clear added value, and the areas where the authorities can act will be strictly defined by Member States and the European Parliament in co-decision. The objective is for European and national bodies to work hand in hand.
The new system has been designed in a way that it can be adapted to future developments in financial services. Every three years the Commission will publish a wide-ranging report on the functioning of the new Authorities and assess whether further steps are needed to ensure the prudential soundness of institutions, the orderly functioning of markets and thereby the protection of depositors, policy-holders and investors. This may or may not lead to proposals to change the structures or tasks of the Authorities; any such proposal would have to be considered and adopted by Council and Parliament.
13. In what cases can European Authorities overrule national authorities? Will they have the possibility to give instructions directly to individual financial institutions?
The ESAs will be able to address decisions directly to national authorities in three areas: (i) in cases where they are arbitrating between national authorities both involved in the supervision of a cross-border group and where they need to agree or coordinate their position; (ii) in cases where a national authority is incorrectly applying EU Regulations (EU Regulations are directly applicable and are not transposed into national law); and (iii) in emergency situations declared by the Council.
The authorities will be able to take decisions directly applicable to financial institutions as a last resort in the three cases just referred to above where the Authority has addressed a decision to the national supervisor but the national supervisor has not complied with it. This can be done only in cases where there is directly applicable EU legislation as defined above.
14. Will the new Authorities have any direct supervisory powers?
Yes, for the supervision of credit rating agencies (CRAs). Since rating services are not linked to a particular territory and the ratings issued by a CRA can be used by financial institutions all around Europe, the Commission has recently proposed a more centralised system for supervision of Credit Rating Agencies at EU level. Under the proposed changes, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) would be entrusted with exclusive supervision powers over CRAs registered in the EU. It would have powers to request information, to launch investigations, and to perform on-site inspections.
The Regulations establishing the new European Supervisory Authorities allow them to fulfil any other specific tasks, including supervisory tasks, conferred on them by the EU legislative acts. This entails that the Council and the Parliament may in future grant further supervisory powers to the new Authorities where appropriate, on the basis of a Commission proposal. The Commission would only consider making such a proposal for pan-European entities for which there is a clear added value to EU-level supervision.
15. Can the new Authorities ban toxic or high-risk financial products?
Yes, the Authorities may temporarily prohibit or restrict certain financial activities that threaten the orderly functioning and integrity of financial markets or the stability of the whole or part of the financial system in Europe in the cases specified in sectoral legislation (e.g. the proposal on short-selling) or if so required in the case of an emergency situation.
16. What is the role of the new European Supervisory Authorities in emergency situations?
It should be clear that we are talking here of emergency powers – which would only apply in exceptional circumstances (defined as a situation which seriously jeopardises the stability of financial markets).
In the great majority of cases, we expect national and European level authorities to work hand in hand – sharing information, coordinating their work and taking decisions together (for example, on technical standards across the European banking sector so banks don’t have to comply with different standards in different countries: this should be of real use for banks across Europe).
Even in emergencies, the first objective of any of the three European supervisory authorities will be to facilitate and coordinate actions by national supervisors, without binding decisions. However, if deemed necessary, there is a procedure in place for ESAs to address binding decisions to national supervisors requiring them to take the necessary action to safeguard the orderly functioning and integrity of financial markets and the stability of the whole or part of the European financial system. So, the new Authorities will have an important co-ordinating role and will be able to adopt decisions requiring supervisors to jointly take action. An example of how this power might be used would be to adopt harmonised temporary bans on short selling on EU securities markets, rather than uncoordinated actions in different Member States, as witnessed over the past years.
The new Authorities will also contribute to and participate actively in the development and coordination of effective and consistent recovery and resolution plans, guarantee schemes, procedures in emergency situations and preventative measures to minimise the systemic impact of any failure. The new Authorities should also ensure that they have a specialised and ongoing capacity to respond effectively to the materialisation of systemic risks. In doing so, they shall identify and measure the systemic risk posed by financial institutions, which shall be subject to, inter alia, enhanced supervision.
17. What is the "fiscal safeguard clause"?
The purpose of the new European supervisory system is to prevent us getting to the point reached in autumn 2008 where banks had to be bailed out. The system will save taxpayers' money by helping to make bank failures less likely in future, through supervision strengthened by the ESAs, and warnings of the European Systemic Risk Board which should be acted upon. As an additional safeguard, the Regulations establishing the new Authorities clearly prohibit them from taking any decisions which impinge on the fiscal responsibilities of Member States. In case any Member State considers that its fiscal responsibilities have been impinged upon, there is a clear and robust procedure for deciding whether this is genuinely the case, with Member States taking the final decision.
18. Who will lead the new Authorities and how will they be selected?
The Chairpersons of the new Authorities will be appointed by the Boards of the Authorities composed of the Heads of national supervisors, and confirmed by the European Parliament, after a thorough and public selection procedure – based on a short-list prepared by the European Commission. It is envisaged that the Chairpersons will be high-profile individuals with an established reputation in their field. They will be full-time officials of the Authorities, but not representatives of any Member State or European Commission appointees. Nationals of any EU Member State with the required experience may apply. The final appointment of the Chairpersons of the Authorities is expected in early spring of 2011. For the first few weeks of their existence, the deputy Chairpersons of the ESA (also Board members) will act as interim Chairpersons.
Figure 3: Day-to-day management in the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs)
19. How much will the Authorities cost and how will they be financed?
The proposed total running cost for the three Authorities in 2011 is of the order of € 40 million - though this will not all be "new" spending. This is because the three existing committees (Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS), Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Committee (CEIOPS) and the Committee of European Securities Regulators (CESR)), which the Authorities will replace, already have significant budgets and staff. In addition, €2.5 million of the total will be funded through industry fees. The total staffing levels of the Authorities will be over 150 people in 2011 and is planned to rise to around 300 after four years of operation. This figure is well below the staffing levels of most national supervisors (for example, the UK Financial Supervisory Authority has around 3 300 staff). This is appropriate, since the new Authorities will in general not be responsible for day-to-day supervision and should not duplicate work carried out by supervisors at national level.
The new Authorities will be financed through: (i) obligatory contributions from national public authorities; (ii) a subsidy from the European Union budget; and (iii) any fees paid by supervised entities to the new Authorities.
The Commission has proposed that the share of this cost for Member States and the EU budget should respectively be 60% and 40% (with costs for supervision of credit rating agencies to be recouped via fees paid by the supervised agencies). The shared funding is intended to reflect the architecture of the European System of Financial Supervisors (ESFS) which brings together a European dimension with a key ongoing role for national supervisors. It also reflects the fact that the current "financial services committees" are funded entirely by the Member States. However, these percentages are not laid down by law and can be varied by Council and Parliament each year as part of the annual budgetary process.
20. When will the new European supervisory authorities start their work?
The set-up date for the new European Supervisory Authorities is 1 January 2011: that is the date on which the existing three committees for banking, securities, and insurance and occupational pensions, located in London, Paris and Frankfurt respectively, will be transformed into EU Authorities.
21. How does this compare with what the Americans are doing in the Dodd-Frank Act?
The EU and the USA are both implementing the G20 commitments rapidly, but in a way adapted to their own legal and economic environment, thus making comparisons hazardous. The chosen network model for supervision in the EU is specifically intended to help to complete the internal market while respecting the principle of subsidiarity. The USA has decided to leave insurance supervision at the level of the federal states, and to keep more than one banking and securities supervisor at federal level.
Regarding financial services reform more widely, by next spring, the Commission will have proposed all the necessary elements for a fundamental improvement of the way Europe's financial markets are regulated and supervised. The last piece of legislation should be adopted by the end of 2011, allowing for national implementation by the end of 2012. In doing so, Europe is showing the same determination as the US in reforming its financial system, in a way adapted to our legal and economic environment. It may be noted that many of the reforms contained in the Dodd-Frank Act require implementing regulations in order to have their full effect, and these are scheduled over the next couple of years.
More information: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/finances/committees/index_en.htm