Euro area ministers discuss common approach to savers' protection
Luxembourg - The euro area's finance ministers were meeting in Luxembourg on Monday amid plummeting stock market indexes and charges that governments were not coordinating their efforts to protect citizens' savings from the credit crunch.
About a third of the 15 European Union countries that share the common currency have already moved to safeguard bank deposits in some way or other - among them Germany, Austria, Greece, Ireland and Belgium.
But unilateral initiatives taken by some governments have irked neighbouring countries because of concerns that savers might move their money to where they think it will be safer.
Austria, for instance, raised its guarantees on savings deposits late Sunday, just hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a political assurance that German savers would be protected.
While insisting that Austrian banks were sound, Austrian Finance Minister Wilhelm Molterer said the government had taken the decision "to avoid a competitive disadvantage with Germany, so that savings deposits do not flow off to Germany."
Molterer planned to lead calls for a common European response at the Monday meeting of euro-area finance ministers.
In Luxembourg, Ireland was expected to come under fire after its decision to guarantee the liabilities of six of its banks sparked concerns that capital would flee Britain and seek refuge in Ireland.
Ireland has also been criticized by the European Commission for failing to warn it in advance about its plans, and because its measures appear to discriminate against foreign banks operating in Ireland.
"The issues that we are looking at particularly closely with the Irish measures are their scope, because they go beyond retail deposits, and the extent to which they may be open to non-Irish banks present on the Irish market," said Jonathan Todd, spokesman for Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
By contrast, the commission gave its blessing Monday to similar initiatives adopted over the weekend by Denmark and Sweden - neither of which have adopted the euro - after they were judged to be non- discriminatory and limited to retail bank deposits only.
The spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Johannes Laitenberger, said plans for a common European response would be addressed at Monday's Eurogroup talks and at Tuesday's meeting, which will be extended to all 27 EU finance ministers.
Those talks follow a summit Saturday in Paris in which the four European members of the Group of Eight (G8) - Britain, France, Germany and Italy - asked the commission to come up with new legislation on savers' protection as soon as possible.
"Different member states now address the situation as they must, but there is a clear political intention to bring this together and consolidate it in a common response," said Laitenberger.
Noting that current EU rules already allow member states to provide some form of savings' guarantees, Laitenberger said the commission was ready to guide member states in the way they should apply such rules.
In Luxembourg, ministers were also due to discuss a number of initiatives aimed at restoring confidence in the financial markets. These include tighter regulations for banks and insurance companies and ways to ensure that the pay packages of company executives are based on long-term, rather than short-term, performance criteria.
"There is not one single magic bullet that will solve this situation," Laitenberger said. "This is going to require tedious, responsible, in depth-work."
The meeting in Luxembourg came as governments across the bloc moved to bail-out troubled banks and as low confidence in the financial markets dragged down share prices across the continent. (dpa)