Italy, EU, and Bank Bailouts

In a Wall Street Journal piece about Italy’s banks in general, are these two items that illustrate both the Nanny State nature of Italy and the cultural differences in attitudes toward personal responsibility among the various constituent nations of the EU.  The backdrop includes the EU’s rule, enacted in 2014, that requires banks across the EU that face bankruptcy to have the banks’ stakeholders (as the WSJ calls them)—shareholders, bond holders, and depositors (but only some of those last…)—to take the losses first and foremost.  The backdrop also includes the trouble Italy’s banks, in particular, are in:

17% of banks’ loans are sour. That is nearly 10 times the level in the US, where, even at the worst of the 2008-09 financial crisis, it was only 5%. Among publicly traded banks in the eurozone, Italian lenders account for nearly half of total bad loans.

What to do, then?

The Italian government has sought EU permission to inject €40 billion [$52 billion] into its banks to stabilize the system.

Rome argues that bending this rule would be a small price to pay for erecting a firewall against possible bank contagion stemming from Brexit.

Because those responsible for a bank’s business strait shouldn’t have to bear the burden—taxpayers should have to pony up, too.

Rome has criticized the EU’s new banking regime and doesn’t want to use “bail-in” rules that prescribe the order in which stakeholders must bear losses for winding down an ailing bank, in part because of the peculiarities of the Italian banking system. About €187 billion of bank bonds are in the hands of retail investors, whose holdings would be wiped out by a bank resolution under the new rules.

Because personal responsibility—on the part of everyone in the society—should be waivable at convenience.

Other nations of the EU—Germany, for instance—demur from this exception-making and from this walking-away from responsibility of those involved.  Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, referring to that 2014 rule:

We worked to set down certain rules about bank resolution and bank recapitalization. We can’t do everything again every two years.

Stick to the rules and hold those stakeholders responsible—as they are—in other words.

Add to this, the Italian government’s direct responsibility for a failing system of handling bankruptcy:

One reason for the low valuations [of bad loans] is the enormous difficulty in unwinding a bad loan in Italy. Italy’s sclerotic courts take eight years, on average, to clear insolvency procedures. A quarter of cases take 12 years.

This sort of basic difference on the nature of responsibility is a major part of why the EU as its comported will fail, and it’s the sort of thing that underlies Great Britain’s citizens’ decision to Leave.

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