FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The European Central Bank is likely to delay two proposals designed to tackle the euro zone’s problem with bad loans after intense pushback from European and Italian lawmakers, three sources close to the matter told Reuters.
The sources said the ECB is all but certain to delay when new rules requiring banks to set aside more cash for soured loans would come into force. These were due to kick in on Jan 1, 2018 but could now wait several months or possibly another year, the sources said.
In addition, the sources said the ECB would likely wait for a proposal by the European Commission, due by March 28, before publishing a separate guideline on how euro zone banks should tackle their 843 billion euros ($997.77 billion) pile of existing unpaid debt.
The Commission plans to put out a Banking Union package of proposals on March 28, which will include several items on dealing with non performing loans.
The delays are to assuage criticism by lawmakers, led by the head of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, saying the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) was overstepping its mark as the euro zone’s baking watchdog by passing new regulation.
The Italian chair of the EU Parliament’s economic committee, Roberto Gualtieri, said he would welcome a delay.
“It would be wise for the SSM to wait for the presentation of the possible legislative proposal, which could be adopted quickly,” the Italian told Reuters.
The government of Italy, home to a quarter of the euro zone’s bad loans, has complained that the rules, which give banks seven years for providing for new bad loans backed by collateral and two years for unsecured ones, risked hurting the economy by discouraging lending.
Despite a delay in implementing these rules, the ECB plans to stick with the main thrust of its proposal, even if some of the text would be refined to emphasize that there would be case-by-case consideration and the higher provisions would not be applied automatically, the sources said.
The ECB declined to comment.
A major fear for Italian authorities is that their banks may have to raise capital to meet the ECB’s requirements - a feat that has been impossible for three of its banks in recent months, triggering state interventions.
The ECB’s chief supervisor Daniele Nouy had raised the prospect of a delay in the introduction of the rules on new non-performing loans (NPLs) at a hearing before Gualtieri’s committee earlier this year to allow for more time to assess feedback from banks and other shareholders.
The consultation is open until 8 Dec., with a hearing with stakeholders scheduled for Nov. 30.
Backing EU lawmaker criticism, the European Union Council has said in a legal opinion that ECB did not have the power to set the rules laid down in its proposal.
That opinion was echoing comments by Tajani and other members of the European Parliament that the ECB breached its powers by encroaching on a legislative prerogative.
Nouy repeatedly defended the guidelines, arguing that they do not equate with laws, and the chair of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem said there was “a general agreement” in favor of the ECB approach on bad loans.
Italy’s Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan later disagreed and called for more time for banks to adapt to stricter requirements.
Sources had told Reuters last month ECB had been working on rules for existing bad loans that mirror those for new ones but pushback from Italy and Brussels meant supervisors were having to rethink their approach.
Editing by Alison Williams