PRAGUE (Reuters) - With little support for a European Union-backed bad bank to clean up the huge pile of soured loans in Europe, national authorities should at least get a common blueprint to deal with the problem, the banking sector watchdog’s head said on Friday.
The European Banking Authority (EBA) in January raised the idea of a publicly-funded single EU asset management company to buy some of the nearly 1 trillion euros (879.3 billion pounds) of bad loans weighing on European growth.
It received a cool reception, including from EU powerhouse Germany, and in April EU Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said bad loans posed a problem to the bloc but national level solutions remained the best remedy.
EU banks are saddled with a high level of non-performing loans (NPLs) that have built up since the 2008 global financial crisis, as firms and households struggled to pay debts.
Bad loan levels are highest in countries like Italy, Greece or Cyprus and very low in countries like Germany. That has made finding a common EU approach difficult.
Speaking on the sidelines of a consumer protection conference in Prague, EBA Chairman Andrea Enria said there remained a misperception that the bad loan problem was only concentrated in a few countries.
“My impression is that the idea of developing a single EU wide asset management company has not got big traction - for the wrong reasons,” he told Reuters. “It is a single market problem because of the size and the interconnections in the market.”
He said he expected a July meeting of EU finance ministers to discuss possible actions and make recommendations.
“But, still, if we don’t go all the way to a single European asset management company, it would be great progress to agree on a common blueprint,” Enria said. That could include a common framework to set up such companies and methodologies for things like transfer prices of assets.
So far, the sale of NPLs has been hampered by the lack of a proper market, which has resulted in too low prices bad loans, discouraging banks from offloading them.
Earlier this week, Italy’s biggest retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo laid down tough conditions to buy the healthy parts of the two Veneto banks for just 1 euro, a move that would force the state to foot the bulk of the bill, raising some eyebrows in Brussels.
The EBA was set up in 2011 and is tasked with harmonising supervision and regulation, becoming more important with the growth of fintech firms.
It also runs bank stress testing in Europe and will conduct one more round next year before moving from its London headquarters as Britain leaves the EU in 2019 under divorce proceedings set in motion in March.
EU leaders agreed a system on Thursday that will lead to a vote in November on a new host city, with several candidates vying for the EBA and its 170 employees.
Enria said a decision by then “will probably be just enough” time to coordinate the move smoothly.
“Our main concern is the continuity of business... There might be staff that decides not to follow us so we need to recruit new staff; we need preparations for a new office,” he said, adding other cases of agencies relocating led to losing 20-30 percent of staff on average.
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.