EU targets bonuses in power grab

Marion Dakers
THE EUROPEAN Union charged ahead with its crackdown on the banking industry yesterday, as several bodies outlined tougher-than-expected rules on pay, bonuses and tax that could radically alter the City.

Finance watchdogs from the 27 member states met in London yesterday to flesh out the first Europe-wide rules to curb bankers’ pay, agreed earlier in the year.

The Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) is expected to publicly announce its decisions today, but insiders told the press yesterday that the panel favoured a prohibition on bonuses containing more than 20 per cent cash.

The ban would be much harsher than the European Parliament’s decision in June to cap the cash portion of bonuses at one third. The EU had already specified that 60 per cent of bonus pay must be deferred for at least three years.

The restriction would also outstrip the Financial Services Authority’s plans for a 50 per cent upper limit on cash bonuses. The FSA, which has a representative on the CEBS panel, declined to comment last night.

“It is time to fundamentally change the bonus culture that contributed to this crisis,” said Arlene McCarthy, a Labour MEP who brokered the basic rules in the European Parliament. “This limit is essential to cutting the incentives for excessive risk taking.”

CEBS is understood to favour a cap on bonus payments, linked to a multiple of basic salary that will differ between institutions depending on the financial risks involved.

“Whether this would achieve the desired risk-aware behaviour from traders is doubtful, as there would be more pressure to put up salaries so that proposed bonuses fall within acceptable levels,” said Nicholas Stretch, a partner at law firm CMS Cameron McKenna

He added: “However, even implementing a framework for limiting pay creates a precedent and could be followed in due course by all sorts of other limits and caps.”

Once CEBS publishes the outcome of yesterday’s meeting, it will spend a month consulting on its proposals.

The panel is also thought to have discussed the controversial banking super-regulator, which was approved by EU legislators last month and will have the power to overrule national authorities. The current European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, hopes to introduce the London-based watchdog in January.

Meanwhile, the Commission yesterday outlined its vision for a 0.5 per cent tax on all banking pay and profit, called the financial activities tax (FAT), to be used to fund global development projects.

The Commission said it would prefer to see a global tax that took a slice of every
financial transaction, also known as a Tobin tax, but accepted it would be impractical without global support. Last month, EU finance ministers failed to agree on a similar levy.

The plans are likely to face stiff opposition when presented to the G20 at its meeting in November, in what the EU hopes will be the start of a worldwide push for banking levies.

The CBI warned last night that any such tax will ultimately be paid for by the customers of banks, and added:?“A financial activities tax within Europe would encourage financial services companies to relocate their operations outside the EU, hurting the economies of member states, and especially the UK owing to the importance of the City as a global financial centre.”

The Association for Financial Markets in Europe said: “Tax is not a regulatory tool and it should not be used as a substitute for effective financial regulation.”