Towards harmonisation of bank insolvency laws

The harmonisation of insolvency rules for European banks was recently put on the table by Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz, together with other measures (such as a European deposit insurance scheme) destined to advance the banking union (see his position paper on the goals of the banking union).  According to Minister Scholz:

The lack of harmonisation in this area complicates the resolution of banks with cross-border operations. This becomes particularly problematic when banks and creditors are better placed in proceedings under national insolvency legislation than they would be with a resolution in accordance with the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive. When this happens, national insolvency legislation undercuts the provisions that are tailored to fit the specific set of interests at play when a bank is wound down.

What is more, the SRB also needs to take into account 19 different national insolvency regimes when performing a resolution due to the no-creditor-worse-off principle, which stipulates that no creditor may incur greater losses as a result of a resolution than they would have in national insolvency proceedings. This is complex, increases legal and compensation risks and results in groups of creditors receiving different treatment despite being fundamentally the same.

For this reason, we need a single European set of laws on bank insolvency.

Coincidentally (or not), a study on the differences between bank insolvency laws and on their potential harmonisation was recently published (the report and the executive summary can be found here). The abstract from the executive summary reads as follows:

 The resolution framework set out under Directive 2014/59/EU (‘BRRD’) provides EU Member States with comprehensive and harmonised arrangements to deal with failing banks at a national level, and is complemented in the euro area by the Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation (SRMR) that sets out a euro-area-wide resolution framework. But under EU law, unlike in the United States, resolution does not function as a standalone substitute for national insolvency proceedings. This study identifies the national insolvency procedures applicable to banks and analyses key differences between them, notably concerning the circumstances according to which the application of reorganisation or winding-up procedures is triggered, the ranking of liabilities, and the available tools to manage bank crises. By highlighting the differences that can be found in the legislative regimes applicable at national level and determining how these national insolvency regimes differ from the resolution regime as set out in the BRRD and SRMR, the study assesses the potential disadvantages that result from the lack of harmonisation of these bank insolvency regimes. Taking these disadvantages into account, policy options are outlined to address these divergences. The feasibility, benefits, obstacles and impact of these options are discussed. In terms of future revision of the current framework, more clarity and predictability of the applicable regime should be sought, particularly for medium-sized banks, with a holistic approach to reform that also takes into account related policies such as those on state aid control and deposit insurance.



Author: Arie Van Hoe

Lawyer (NautaDutilh), voluntary scientific collaborator (University of Antwerp)

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