The London Stock Exchange fiasco does not bode well for post-Brexit Brussels

Julian Harris
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Traders operate in the pit at the London
The LSE and Deutsche Boerse were set to merge in a £21bn deal before an obstacle emerged on Sunday night (Source: Getty)

Breaking up is never easy. For London and Frankfurt's leading stock exchanges this week has been awkward enough, even though their sudden split occurred before they'd managed to tie the knot.

Deutsche Boerse's Carsten Kengeter is none too happy about being abandoned by his proposed merger partner. Yesterday's passive aggressive comments about the LSE's decision against complying with an antitrust demand from Brussels followed stories claiming that the UK side of the £21bn deal was looking for an excuse to call it all off.

"It is pointless for me to speculate on what the reasons behind our merger partner’s decision were," Kengeter said.

"We regret this development. The logic of this merger is still very clear to us."

Read more: Keep calm and carry on: Deutsche Boerse boss confident about future

All manner of theories are doing the rounds in financial circles, blaming everyone from London's bankers, to Xavier Rolet, to German politicians and regulators, and even rival exchange Euronext and the French government.

Irrespective of the complexities of the story, one element is clear – the European Commission dropped a very sudden demand on the LSE more than four months after its competition enquiry began. At worst this was a political decision to derail the deal. At best it reflects a clumsy process carried out by technocrats removed from the realities of the marketplace.

Read more: Battle lines drawn over London Stock Exchange mega-merger

Impending Brexit complexities clearly didn't help the deal. But while much attention has, rightly, been paid to the UK's future political direction, the question should also be asked of the EU itself.

EU hostility to London holding the combined stock exchange's headquarters does not bode well, and neither does the EU's inability to approve a merger that could have given the continent an exchange to rival its huge US counterparts.

Read more: The inside story of how the LSE's mega-merger was suddenly derailed

Many City insiders expect the ECB, post-Brexit, to pursue its campaign against euro denominated clearing taking place in London, despite the enormous economic harm this could deliver to Europe's businesses and financial services. This would send an awful message to the world – namely that just as the US is taking a sharp protectionist turn, the EU might be prepared to follow suit.

If EU leaders think they have a political imperative to "punish" the UK in Brexit negotiations they are sadly mistaken. Instead of trying to scare other member states into remaining in the bloc, the EU can only survive if it turns around its economic fortunes, becoming more open, democratic, and attractive to foreign investment and trade.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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