Eurozone finance ministers met yesterday (21 June) in Luxembourg to discuss how to channel up to €100 billion in aid to Spanish lenders weighed down by bad debts from a burst property bubble. Madrid's economy minister said a formal request would be made in days for the bailout, which was agreed two weeks ago.
Many in the markets see the package as a mere prelude to a full programme for the Spanish state, which Madrid vehemently denies it will need.
Spain's financial plight took centre stage a week before a European Union summit on 28-29 June tackles long-term plans for closer fiscal and banking union in a bid to strengthen the euro's foundations, after bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal failed to end a 2-1/2-year old debt crisis.
To pave the way, the leaders of Germany, Italy, France and Spain plan to meet in Rome today.
"We are clearly seeing additional tension and acute stress applying to both banks and sovereigns in the euro area," International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who attended the Luxembourg meeting, told reporters.
"With that in mind, the IMF believes that a determined and forceful move towards complete European monetary union should be reaffirmed."
Independent auditors say Spain needs up to €62 billion
Two independent audits by consultants Roland Berger and Oliver Wyman found that Spanish banks would need between €51 billion and 62 billion in extra capital to weather a serious downturn in the economy and new losses on their books.
The Bank of Spain said the €100 billion offered to Madrid two weeks ago would give a wide margin of error. Spain's three biggest banks would not need extra capital even in a stressed scenario, it said. The government said it did not expect to shut any banks and would restructure those in trouble.
In Luxembourg, the finance ministers decided Spain should initially apply to the eurozone's temporary rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, with the loan taken over by the permanent bailout fund the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) once it is up and running after 9 July.
Financial assistance to come from EFSF
"The financial assistance will be provided by the EFSF until the ESM becomes available, and then it will be transferred to the ESM," Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the Eurogroup of finance ministers, told a news conference.
"We would expect the Spanish authorities to put forward a formal request for financial assistance by next Monday," he said.
Such a solution should avert a problem which had scared investors: debt issued by the ESM must be paid back first in case of a Spanish default, relegating private creditors lower in the pecking order. Because the new bailout debt will originate from the EFSF it will be issued without that requirement.
The German government and opposition reached a deal that will allow parliament to approve the ESM next week.
The ESM cannot come into effect without approval by Europe's biggest economy. Ratification also requires the signature of the president and a nod from the constitutional court in Karlsruhe.
The parliamentary floor leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives appeared to dash French and southern European hopes of nudging Berlin towards common euro area debt issuance, saying there would be no mutualisation of debt in Europe.