MEPs opt for tougher rules on bankers’ bonuses

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Bankers' bonuses should be capped at twice their basic pay and "golden hellos" handed back if performance disappoints, European parliamentarians said yesterday (27 March).

The bloc's parliament and member states are approving a draft law to implement Basel III, global rules to toughen up bank capital and liquidity requirements from 2013 to plug regulatory gaps highlighted by the financial crisis.

EU lawmakers want to include extra elements that are not part of Basel III, such as tougher curbs on bankers' pay and capital surcharges agreed at the global level for very big banks.                                         

"My approach is that variable pay should not be more than double the fixed," said Othmar Karas, an Austrian centre-right lawmaker who is steering the measure through the European Parliament.

Michel Barnier, the EU financial services commissioner who wrote the draft law, has already signalled his backing for a ratio between fixed salary and bonus, but others wanted to go further.

Belgian Green Party member Philippe Lamberts said there was no evidence that salary structures seen at banks like Deutsche Bank or Société Générale "correspond to any real value creation".

"Variable salary cannot be bigger than fixed salary," he added. "Don't tell me you need two-fold, three-fold, five-fold variable salary to do good work. This is false," Lamberts said.

Banks have come under fire for failing to show restraint on pay for executives and top staff when thousands of jobs are being cut and wages slashed or frozen in the wider economy after a recession many blamed on them.

Bob Diamond – who heads Britain's Barclays and is one of Europe's highest-paid bankers – took home pay, shares and benefits worth 17 million pounds (€20 million) last year. Credit Suisse Group AG chief Brady Dougan took a more than 50% pay cut, as the bank's profit slumped, to earn a total 5.8 million francs (€4.7 million) in salary and share-based bonuses.

In 2010, Parliament pushed through the current set of EU pay curbs on banks which already go beyond principles agreed by the G20 group of the world's top economies.

However, banks have already begun to skirt around the current curb on how much of a bonus can be paid upfront in cash by bumping up basic salaries.

Sharon Bowles, British Liberal chairman of the Parliament's economic affairs committee also proposed that "golden hellos" – a big cheque bankers receive to lure them from a rival – would be clawed back or returned if performance fell short.

Karas said there was also cross-party backing for using the draft law to implement the capital surcharge the G20 has agreed to impose on 28 of the very biggest banks in the world from 2016 which will be on top of Basel's 7% minimum core capital.

But French centre-right lawmaker Jean-Paul Gauzes warned that including the surcharges in the EU law could put European banks at a competitive disadvantage to their global peers.

Parliament then wants to vote on a first-reading deal with EU states in June to give the European Banking Authority enough time to flesh out implementing measures in time for the January 2013 start date agreed globally for phasing in Basel III.

World leaders agreed in 2010 to tougher bank rules known as Basel III. EU rules on compensation are enshrined in proposed amendments to the existing Capital Requirements Directive. 

The Capital Requirements Directive, adopted in 2006, is currently undergoing its fourth review at the European Commission. The rules would enforce proposals under discussion by the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision, which sets minimum standards for banks in 27 countries and includes global officials including Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve.

  • June 2012: Parliament expected to vote on a first-reading deal
  • January 2013: World-wide phasing in of Basel III 

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