France and UK 'agree on eurozone bank supervision'

France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici in London, 17 Sep 12
Image caption Mr Moscovici said prospects for the eurozone were brighter than six months ago

France and the UK broadly agree on the EU plan for the European Central Bank (ECB) to supervise all eurozone banks, the French finance minister says.

Pierre Moscovici also said the UK "will be part of the decision-making process" on bank supervision, even though the UK is outside the 17-nation eurozone.

He was speaking in London after talks with UK Chancellor George Osborne.

On whether to provide a bailout for Spain, Mr Moscovici said "the tools exist" but Madrid would have to decide.

"This is a matter of sovereignty and we do not decide for the Spanish government," he said.

There is intense speculation that recession-hit Spain will soon ask for an EU bailout, as it remains burdened with bad debts from the property crash that left its banking sector fragile. But Mr Moscovici declined to give advice, telling the BBC: "They know what they have to do".

Speaking to the BBC's Business reporter Nigel Cassidy, he said the ECB decision of 6 September on bond-buying was "very important" - suggesting that the ECB was ready to help Spain.

In a move that eased market pressure the ECB said it would buy the sovereign bonds of debt-laden countries like Spain if they asked for help and agreed to stick to tight budget controls. The idea behind such purchases - potentially unlimited - would be to lower a country's borrowing costs.

Timeline for banks

Last week the European Commission - the EU's executive arm - set out a blueprint for an EU banking union, including giving the ECB responsibility for overseeing all 6,000 banks in the eurozone.

The idea is that with tighter control the regulators will act faster to deal with failing banks, averting the need for huge bailouts with taxpayers' money.

The first phase is scheduled to start in January, with the process completed by 2014.

Mr Moscovici confirmed that timetable, telling journalists "we must find agreement in the EU before the end of 2012, with implementation then as fast as possible".

"The UK, like us, would like if possible quite a swift timeline" for introducing the new ECB mechanism, he said.

He also said the UK agreed that all eurozone banks should be included - not just the biggest cross-border banks regarded as systemically important.

The ECB would have overall authority, above the national regulators who currently supervise banks.

But Germany - the richest economy in the eurozone - is especially wary of taking on responsibility for banks in other countries. Some senior German officials have criticised the Commission plan, arguing that ECB supervision should only apply to major banks which could pose a significant threat to the single currency.

The plan needs to be agreed by all 27 members of the European Union.

Aerospace merger

Turning to the planned merger of UK defence contractor BAE Systems and European aerospace firm EADS, Mr Moscovici said it raised many questions over "strategic interests" and "industrial effects".

The proposed deal must be "examined thoroughly", he said, voicing concern about employment and governance of the merged company.

The merger would create the world's largest aerospace and defence firm.

Under the code of the UK's Takeover Panel, the deadline to finalise the details of the deal is 17:00 BST on 10 October.

The French state together with the French media-to-aerospace group Lagardere hold 22% of EADS. Germany's Daimler also owns a 22% stake in EADS, but has pledged to sell a third of this to the German government.

Meanwhile, the UK has a special "golden share" - a holding that blocks unwanted takeovers - in BAE.

Wealth tax 'fair'

In his BBC interview Mr Moscovici also defended his government's new temporary wealth tax, which will raise the tax rate to 75% on incomes above 1m euros (£809,000; $1.3m).

"I'm not afraid of an exit of businessmen or talents - the red carpet is in France for business in France," he said.

In June the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, joked that he would "roll out the red carpet" for French businesses to come to Britain if France's Socialist government raised the taxes of millionaires.

Mr Moscovici said the new tax - spread over two years - was needed because in the past 10 years of conservative government in France inequalities had soared.

"It's necessary to show that rich people also want to make an effort for their country... it's fairness, it's comprehensible."

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