May 30, 2012

The euro zone should move to a banking union and consider directly recapitalizing banks from its permanent bailout fund, the European Commission said on Wednesday in annual economic recommendations that shone a critical light on Spain.

The call, in documents outlining the economic strategy for the euro zone, would appear to directly address market concerns about problems in the Spanish banking sector and the cost to the Spanish government of rescuing its banks - a factor that has driven Spain's borrowing costs to near unsustainable levels.

European stock markets pared losses and the euro jumped on the back of the recommendations, even though they are not formal proposals, face serious opposition from some member states and remain a long way from implementation.

Investors are worried that public finances in Spain, which is already struggling to cut it large budget deficit at a time of recession, will become unsustainable if it is forced to bail out is banks, after a real-estate market boom turned to collapse and left nearly all banks laden with bad property loans.

The Commission, the European Union's executive, said the vicious circle of weak banks and indebted sovereigns lending to each other needed be broken.

"A closer integration among the euro area countries in supervisory structures and practices, in cross-border crisis management and burden sharing, towards a "banking union", would be an important complement to the current structure" of Europe's economic and monetary union, the Commission said.

"In the same vein, to sever the link between banks and the sovereigns, direct recapitalization by the ESM might be envisaged," the document said.

The euro zone's permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which comes into force in July, cannot as it stands lend directly to banks, only to sovereigns, even if only for the specific purpose of bank recapitalization.


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