PARIS/BERLIN (Reuters) - France and Germany are seeking a unified European position on U.S. banking sanctions, a German spokesman said on Monday, though Paris denied a report it was pushing for a G20 meeting of world leaders later this year to challenge the sanctions.
The French Finance Ministry said it was instead seeking support from EU partners to bolster the use of the euro in international business as a way of reducing the potentially very costly exposure of European firms to U.S. sanctions law.
The so-called extra-territoriality of U.S. sanctions law, which apply to foreign firms carrying out transactions in U.S. dollars even if the operations involve non-U.S. branches, allowed U.S. authorities to fine French lender BNP Paribas nearly $9 billion (5.34 billion pounds) last month.
A spokesman for the German finance ministry said: “I can confirm that the matter was a subject of discussion between Germany and France and also between the ministers.”
Both German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his French counterpart Michel Sapin “would like to see a unified European position on this matter,” he added. Individual banks were not discussed, he said.
The German Finance Ministry made the comments following a Financial Times report which said Paris had gathered support to challenge heavy U.S. penalties on foreign banks at a gathering of the world’s 20 biggest economies in November in Australia.
“France has not asked for the extra-territoriality of U.S. law to be a specific point on the agenda of the G20. What we are working on is the role of the euro in international transactions,” an official at the French Finance Ministry said.
However, the French official did not rule out that the issue of the extra-territoriality of U.S. sanctions law could be added to the agenda of the November G20 “at a later stage”.
The Financial Times wrote that, after recent talks with French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, Berlin, London and Rome were backing a push by Paris to have its concerns on U.S. extra-territoriality discussed at the November gathering in Brisbane.
A spokesman for Italy’s Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said Padoan and Sapin had discussed the role of the euro during talks in Rome last week but not the more controversial issue of the right of U.S. authorities to impose fines on foreign banks.
“Padoan promised to bring this issue (of the euro’s role in international transactions) to the attention of the Ecofin,” the spokesman said, referring to the monthly meetings of EU finance ministers. “(Sapin and Padoan) did not discuss the case of U.S. penalties on foreign banks or the G20 agenda,” he added.
U.S. authorities fined French bank BNP Paribas a record $8.9 billion for breaking U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran over a 10-year period up to 2012.
France has repeatedly called for efforts to bolster the role of the euro in international business following the BNP case, which saw the French bank plead guilty to two criminal charges and accept a ban on certain dollar-clearing activities.
Reporting by Andrew Callus and Ingrid Melander in Paris, Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Giselda Vagnoni in Rome; Writing by Alexandra Hudson and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Gareth Jones