EU finance ministers asked to set Capital Markets Union priorities

Analysts are worried transaction taxes could curb the benefits of capital markets union. [Shutterstock]

The Latvian Presidency of the European Union has called on the EU to set out clear priorities in order to generate momentum for the Capital Markets Union plan to lift growth.

The CMU project aims to increase the amount of funds raised by stock, bond and other markets for companies to grow. The 28-country bloc relies heavily on banks for funds, which has been difficult since the financial crisis as lenders focus on building up capital defences.

EU financial services chief Jonathan Hill has published a long list of possible ways to build the CMU, sparking concern the plan could get bogged down in lengthy debate. The bloc’s finance ministers will discuss Hill’s ideas when they meet in Riga on Friday (24 April) and Saturday.

“Beyond possible ‘quick wins’, it will be important to seek agreement on which other key actions should be dealt with as a matter of priority in order to create momentum for addressing some of the more difficult, long-standing barriers to the capital markets union in the long run,” EU president Latvia said in a paper prepared for the meeting.

“In which three areas do you see a need for short-term priority action?” the paper added.

The need to set clear priorities is echoed by Bruegel, an influential EU affairs think tank in Brussels, which has also written a paper for the finance ministers.

Bruegel proposes a staged process to “sustain the policy momentum”, such as by agreeing an early and firm commitment on a limited number of key reforms.

Bruegel recommends possibly delaying a separate, draft EU law on forcing banks to isolate trading activities for markets. Critics say the plans could harm market-making, a key mechanism for companies raising funds.

More controversially, Bruegel says that plans by 11 eurozone countries for a tax on stock, bond and derivatives trades “may act as a brake on investment with detrimental economic consequences”.

Strengthening the EU’s European Securities and Markets Authority would also boost CMU plans, it said, a step that would raise British hackles.

“European member states should instead focus their energies on harmonized taxation of savings, reforming the tax disadvantage given to equity relative to debt,” Bruegel says in the paper.

It recommends creating a new European Chief Accountant office to stamp out national differences in how accounting rules are applied. Accounts are the basis information investors use when making their decisions.

Jonathan Hill, the EU's new financial services commissioner, announced he will set out his plans for a pan-European capital market by the middle of 2015.

The objective is to create an integrated market for raising money through bonds, shares and other financial instruments over the next five years.

Officials say a capital markets union would also mean the EU moving beyond public subsidies and loans to coordinate financing for companies and infrastructure through project bonds, public-private partnerships and infrastructure funds.

Hill said his first steps would be to push a proposal for European long-term investment funds for infrastructure and businesses, to develop a framework for securitisation and to carry out analysis of private placements - the sale of securities to a small number of chosen institutional investors.

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