Osborne stands alone as EU backs bonus cap

 
George Osborne meets other European finance ministers George Osborne has found little support for his objections to the bonus cap in Brussels

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Chancellor George Osborne stood isolated after European Union finance ministers vowed to press on with proposals to curb bankers' bonuses.

He told a meeting of EU finance ministers that he could not back the plans, which he fears could damage London's financial centre.

The EU is proposing to cap bonuses to 100% of a banker's annual salary, or to 200% if shareholders approve.

There will be further talks, but all other countries backed the plan.

Those negotiations will take place over the next few weeks ahead of a a formal vote at the European Parliament in April, and the UK will hope to win some concessions as the details are finalised.

Supporters of the bonus cap need roughly a two-thirds majority to pass the legislation, however, meaning the new rules can come into force even with British opposition.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Osborne said the UK already had the toughest regime in Europe for bankers' pay and bonuses and that a cap could "have a perverse effect".

Further talks

Analysis

This is an argument that the UK has basically lost.

The EU Commissioner for Financial Services, Michel Barnier, said it was "crystal clear" that the bonus cap would be imposed.

There will be further technical negotiations on some of the details: there will be a focus on a closer link between bonus schemes and long-term performance; and perhaps an increase in the amount of bonus that can be deferred and therefore discounted when the total pay-out is being calculated.

But EU officials say any alterations will have a pretty small impact on the amount of bonus that can be paid. Other countries want to find consensus with the UK - the German and Italian finance ministers said so explicitly.

But there is not much room for manoeuvre. It is almost unprecedented for a significant piece of financial legislation to pass in Europe without British backing - but that could be about to happen. And for some in the City, that is a worrying straw in the wind.

There were signs of support for the UK from Germany and Italy at Tuesday's meeting. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, for example, said "it would be better'' to reach consensus with the UK.

However, the UK chancellor can only really hope to tinker at the margins of the deal, BBC Brussels correspondent Chris Morris says.

EU officials say any alterations would have a pretty small impact on the total bonuses that can be paid.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said it was "no wonder" that George Osborne found himself outvoted 26-to-1 at Tuesday's meeting.

"He failed to engage with these sensible proposals to limit bonuses... until the very last minute," Mr Balls said.

"It shouldn't take the European Union to rein in excessive bonuses, but George Osborne has dragged his feet and refused to act in Britain."

The bonus proposals are part of wider measures requiring banks to strengthen their capital buffers in the hope of avoiding another financial crisis.

Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner for the single market, said high bonuses were behind excessive risk-taking by bankers. "Enough is enough. We've got to put a stop to that."

'Unintended consequences'

It is very unusual for a significant piece of financial legislation to pass without the backing of the UK, whose capital London is Europe's major financial centre.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has dismissed the bonus cap as "self-defeating". The City fears the rules will drive away talent and restrict growth.

Simon Lewis, chief executive of the lobby group the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, said the proposed measures were not just a threat to the City of London, but to Europe's competitive position in financial services.

He told the BBC: "If this goes ahead, you will see the law of unintended consequences. Salaries will go up, there will be less flexibility, and the banks will be less competitive."

Last week the Federation of European Employers questioned whether restrictions on bankers' pay exceeded EU powers.

There has been speculation that the UK may try to invoke a little-used "national interest" defence to block attempts to curb bonuses.

The so-called "Luxembourg Compromise" allows a member state to block a majority decision being taken if an issue is deemed to seriously affect "a very important national interest".

Some banks have reportedly taken legal advice on whether the EU's proposals are within the law, according to the Financial Times on Tuesday. One bank had already received legal opinion that the bonus measures contravened European law, the FT said.

Mr Lewis told the BBC that he "was sure" lawyers would be looking at whether the proposals were lawful, but added that "these are early days".

The European Commission has said that it is confident the proposals are legally watertight.

 

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  • rate this
    -220

    Comment number 84.

    The chancellor is standing up for the well-being of Britain, although few can see it behind their seething anger towards those more successful and subsequently more wealthy than themselves. Introducing this cap will see the UK lose its competitive edge which attracts many of the richest here to work and, therefore pay obscene amounts in taxes, not to mention economic growth brought with business.

  • rate this
    +232

    Comment number 18.

    No-one is cannier with money than the Swiss.No-one has more successful banks.
    If the Swiss have decided to cap the ridiculous salaries, why don't we follow?

  • rate this
    +120

    Comment number 15.

    Personally I don't have a problem with high bonuses as long as the market/industry can support it. If Banker A works hard, brings plenty of money into his company & that benefits the economy in terms of his spend, inward investment, corp tax, then fine. What I totally and utterly object to is the rewarding of failure, mediocrity & downright cowboy-like behaviour where accountability is also amiss

  • rate this
    +266

    Comment number 6.

    Osborne fears driving away talent

    The talent to lose money? The talent to grab huge salaries and bonuses?

    We can do without that sort of talent.

  • rate this
    +143

    Comment number 4.

    These caps are essential - we've seen what happens without them... bankers with noses in the trough as the country burns around them. It will also only work with concerted action throughout Europe. The US will follow suit, so if the bankers want to go live in Hong Kong, Singapore or Beijing, let them. We're better off without them.

 

Comments 5 of 6

 

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