One year after the meteoric collapse of Lehman Brothers, both Washington and Brussels are preparing to unveil massive regulation overhauls that, if they come to pass, will have the extraordinary effect of putting the world’s entire financial system under the thumb of two powerful – and competing - regulatory regimes.
So far both America and Europe have failed to institute meaningful reform to the financial system that would prevent a similar financial collapse from happening again. This was almost painfully evident during President Obama’s stern speech to Wall Street last week on the one-year anniversary – full of tough words but backed by little action taken in the past year to better regulate American financial institutions.
This reality was angrily pointed out by some American commentators, who said that a regulatory overhaul should have been made central to the massive bail-outs a year ago. The Obama administration counters that regulatory reform at the height of the crisis would have destabilized a system already on the verge of collapse. This situation has been mirrored across the pond, where both national governments and the EU have resisted making significant regulatory reform so far.
But now it is clear that the financial sector is once again on stable ground. Whether this is a direct result of the massive cash infusion it was given over the past year is debatable, but given the windfall profits and massive bonuses that have begun to creep back in, it’s no longer tenable to argue that the sector is too fragile to introduce massive reform. It appears the Obama administration is set to introduce its overhaul in the coming weeks. Across the pond, it appears some consensus has finally been reached in order to create financial regulation at the EU level. If the plans come to pass it would mean that just two centralized, powerful regulatory regimes would govern basically the entire world’s financial sector, which would mean that the laissez-faire days of Anglo-Saxon capitalism are a thing of the past.
The EU proposal that will be unveiled on Wednesday will reportedly create three new supervisory authorities in the areas of banking, insurance and securities. The new authorities would supervise financial institutions and step in during emergency situations to take urgent action. They will reportedly have the power to shut down Europe’s stock markets during a crisis. The new authorities would also be able to rule on disputes involving financial institutions that operate across EU internal borders. For large recapitalisations or bail-outs, the decision would come directly from the European Commission by a simple majority vote of commissioners.
The UK has been the biggest objector during these negotiations, but reportedly they have been satisfied with a compromise deal that would require that member states be allowed invoke a clause taking that voting decision instead to the council, to be voted on by member states’ finance ministers, by a qualified majority vote.
Eventually the authorities will draw up themselves technical standards to be applied throughout the EU, which all EU and EEA financial institutions would be required to follow. The commission would then have to approve these standards. The purpose of this standardisation is to make sure everyone is playing by the same rulebook and that companies no longer have to spend millions on compliance efforts across different regulatory regimes in Europe.
A separate European Systemic Risk Board will also be created, according to EUObserver. That board would watch the financial system for risks or problems, and it can issue warnings early when it identifies problems.
Significant details of the Obama administrations plans for a regulatory overhaul have not yet emerged, but if they are as ambitious as these Brussels plans, the world could be looking at a very different regulatory environment in the near future.