Thank you, Toomas! Honourable colleagues, let me start by wishing a lot of success to the Estonian Presidency!
Today we've heard the presentation of the Presidency's priorities, which we support. We are confident that this will be a result-oriented Presidency, capable of making strategic choices to advance our priorities.
Let me express my appreciation for the Presidency's commitment to keep the Capital Markets Union high on the agenda.
I welcome the fact that the Council has already started to work on the European Commission's recent proposal for the Pan-European personal pension product.
I wish you the best of luck in steering us through various CMU negotiations. The Capital Markets Union is a major positive agenda, and we need strong commitment from co-legislators to deliver on it swiftly.
Otherwise the most prominent point on today's agenda was tackling non-performing loans. Work in this area is on-going, and ratios of NPLs are going down.
To give you a few examples:
- In Member States such as Ireland and Spain, which have undertaken measure reforms in the banking sector, NPLs are going down already since some time. For example, Spain has managed to decrease its NPL ratio from 8.8 percent in September 2014 to below 6 percent in December 2016.
- In Italy, the recent decisions on banks have reduced non-performing loans in the banking system by about 13 percent. If you add recent private NPL sales by the largest Italian bank, you get close to the 20 percent reduction.
- Similarly in Portugal, recent transactions on Novo Banco and CGD have contributed to tackling NPLs decisively.
So Europe is on the right track. But we need to accelerate our action.
This is why we welcome that Finance Ministers have agreed today on a European Action Plan to tackle NPLs.
This Action Plan has four work strands, on:
- supervisory policies
- structural and legal reforms, including insolvency and law enforcement frameworks
- the fostering of secondary markets for NPLs, and
- support for restructuring of the banking sector.
All in all, the Action Plan strikes the right balance between joint action at both national and European level. So, the Commission is prepared to keep playing an active role.
Yesterday, we launched a public consultation:
- First on how the EU can tackle barriers to entry for companies willing to purchase NPLs or servicing loans on secondary markets.
- And second on how to improve access to loan collateral for secured creditors. This could help pre-empt the building up of new NPLs, and ultimately allow better access to credit.
Let me also say a word on the useful but challenging issue of harmonisation of insolvency law.
We are going step by step: Last year we already had a proposal on early restructuring and second chance, and a proposal on bank creditors' hierarchy.
We now have our consultation on a possible legislation on secured creditors. The support of the European Parliament and the Council will be crucial in delivering those steps.
We will work together with the ECB and the EBA to develop, by the end of the year, a European blueprint for national Asset Management Companies (AMCs).
It will draw on experience gathered during the financial crisis to propose best practice to Member States, while fully respecting EU rules.
To make real progress, we need to better mobilise EU institutions, Member States, supervisors, banks and market participants. This dedicated European Action Plan to tackle non-performing loans will help to focus minds and get us working together to tackle this problem.
On other topics, the Ministers also debated our latest tax transparency proposal, which is aimed at holding responsible the middlemen who are helping to design and plan tax evasion. We hope for a speedy agreement on this legislative proposal.
Finally, ECOFIN formally adopted this year's Country-Specific Recommendations.
Member States can now focus on reform design and implementation. The European Commission stands ready to provide reform support, upon demand.
Thank you very much.