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17 April 2018

VoxEU: Where we stand on European Capital Markets Union

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The European Commission launched its Capital Markets Union project in 2015 to help unlock funding for investment through deeper and more integrated capital markets. This column argues that progress has been slow and that a more ambitious vision is needed to achieve true Capital Markets Union.

CMU was motivated by Europe’s slow recovery from the balance sheet recession triggered by the global financial crisis. While CMU was viewed as essential to delivering the Juncker Commission's priority of boosting jobs and growth, this was more of a selling point than any instrument directly targeted at this objective. Stability considerations were not the primary driver, although integrated financial markets were expected to improve Europe’s shock-absorbing capacity through cross-border risk sharing.

The election of pro-reform governments in France and Germany and the rebound in economic activity in Europe are conducive to accelerated implementation of the CMU agenda. However, the incentive to seek alternative funding sources for investment is weakening as bank balance sheets gradually recover. Post-Brexit, the project should focus on achieving CMU among the EU27. Such a project should be viewed as part of a long-term agenda rather than as a short-term expedient to overcome the reluctance of banks to lend and boost investment. Progress toward CMU is possible without impinging on contentious issues involving fiscal backstops. Unlike prudential supervision, which needs to be accompanied by a resolution framework with fiscal implications, enforcement of capital market rules such as those governing authorisation of funds for retail distribution or issuance of securities does not generate fiscal responsibilities.

A successful CMU will emerge through market forces, once regulatory and legal impediments are removed. STS securitisation, streamlining of rules for securities prospectuses, as well as efforts to improve data comparability, increase legal certainty, and harmonise rules for marketing investment products, are all steps in the right direction. At the current pace, however, the building blocks of CMU are unlikely to be in place by 2019. Priority should be placed on deepening financial market integration, as opposed to helping SMEs access market-based finance, tackling investment shortages and promoting infrastructure investment, green bonds or energy-efficient mortgages. These are valid objectives, but they are not central to the CMU project. More effort has to be made in harmonizing insolvency proceedings, improving market infrastructure (‘Giovannini barriers’), developing venture capital and harmonising taxation of financial products. Better harmonized insolvency laws and bankruptcy rules could make it easier for cross-border investors to recoup losses in case a business fails. The World Bank’s Doing Business report for 2018 shows that the recovery rate in insolvency cases ranges from 33.6 cents on the euro in Greece to 88.3 in Finland. The CMU agenda also needs to attract and incorporate more actively household and corporate sector savings in vehicles that will invest in capital markets and encourage them to diversify across the EU, along the lines of the proposed PEPP product. A fragmented financial sector is not only inefficient but also unable to attract investments from overseas.

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