Merkel Opens Door to Deputy’s Plan for Europe’s Banking Union

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled support for her deputy’s gambit to break a years-long impasse over Europe’s banking integration.

Her remarks Monday evening suggest that the proposal by Germany’s finance minister, while not officially endorsed by the government, reflects a willingness to negotiate on establishing European Union-wide bank deposit insurance. This was a key pillar of Europe’s strategy to exit the sovereign debt crisis, but years of debate has so far failed to produce results.

“Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has made a serve here, as one says,” Merkel said in Rome at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “We will still discuss the details within the German government, but all in all the things are going in the direction that we need. Namely, that we have to get ahead.”

Europe’s seven-year push to cut the link between banks and their home countries has pitted fiscally conservative northern European countries against their neighbors in the south, and smaller euro-area countries against bigger ones. Germany so far has opposed a joint European guarantee for bank deposits, saying that banks in weaker countries first had to reduce risks on their balance sheets.

While reaffirming that a common deposit insurance would be “a huge proof of trust” and that progress will only be gradual, Merkel said that Germany is committed to reaching this goal.

Italy’s initial reaction to Scholz’s proposal had been cold, with Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri flatly rejecting a key element of the proposal. Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Gualtieri had reaffirmed Italy’s opposition to imposing stricter rules on banks’ holdings of domestic sovereign debt. Italy, with the euro-area’s largest debt, maintains that any move in this direction would gravely endanger its financial system.

On Monday, Merkel reaffirmed Germany’s line on sovereign debt but praised Italy’s progress in strengthening its banks.

“I have once more looked at how the Italian risks in the banks have developed,” she said. “I am very content that in the past few years big steps have been taken in this area, in all euro states, also in Italy. This is a good basis to continue the work.”

Speaking alongside Merkel, Conte skirted the details of the debate but restated Italy’s goal of strengthening the setup of the euro-area.

“We do not fear any instability” in our financial system, he said. “We believe that this discussion should proceed in a balanced way.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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