LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers discussed on Monday the role of their bailout fund in euro zone integration, with support for the fund to stay owned by governments, play a role in crisis prevention and become a backstop for a bank resolution fund.
The ministers are the governors of the fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which was created at the height of the sovereign debt crisis as a lender of last resort to governments. It has a lending capacity of 500 billion euros.
“Everyone agreed that the ESM has a very strong role to play not only the crisis management but also in the prevention of future crises,” the chairman of the talks Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a news conference.
A crisis prevention role for the ESM, an intergovernmental institution, could lead to a clash with the European Commission, which under European Union law now has the sole power to monitor government policies and issue recommendations.
But a German paper prepared for the meeting said that fiscal responsibilities and fiscal control belonged together and called for a bigger role for the ESM in ensuring EU budget rules, the Stability and Growth Pact, are observed.
The rules have become too complex and less predictable now, the paper argued and proposed also introducing a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, to be managed by the ESM, as a way to bring back more discipline to government policy-making.
“The ESM could gradually be given a stronger, neutral role with regard to the monitoring of the Stability and Growth Pact,” it said, adding this could be done by amending intergovernmental treaties such as the Fiscal Compact and the ESM treaty.
While no decisions were taken on Monday, Dijsselbloem said that the ministers broadly supported using the ESM as a backstop for the EU’s Single Resolution Fund (SRF) for banks.
The SRF was created for the resolution of failing euro zone banks and is financed from annual bank contributions. It has so far accumulated 17 billion euros and is due to reach full capacity of around 55 billion euros in 2023.
Should it find before then that it needs more money than it has received from banks, it will need a backstop - and ministers are likely to agree the ESM should play that role.
Some officials would like to see the ESM provide a similar underpinning for the yet-to-be-created European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS), which will insure deposits in all euro zone countries up to 100,000 euros if opposition from Germany can be overcome.
In the paper for the meeting, Berlin again rejected it, saying it “would put much too great a strain on the ESM and go against its core purpose of bailing-out countries in severe trouble”.
Germany would like to see the ESM turned into a European Monetary Fund, a move that would eliminate the need to involve the International Monetary Fund or the European Central Bank in future euro zone crises like the one that was triggered by Greece and engulfed also Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus.
The talks in Luxembourg are part of a broader discussion among finance ministers from the 19 euro zone countries on how to better organise the single currency area and integrate it more deeply after Britain leaves the European Union in 2019.
Apart from transforming the ESM, there are ideas to set up a euro zone budget, appoint a euro zone finance minister and create a euro zone subgroup in the European Parliament.
Writing by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Alison Williams