Backing Grows for European Bank Plan


BRUSSELS — The European Union’s halting effort to create a more unified banking system, which many experts consider necessary for avoiding future financial crises, received fresh impetus on Tuesday.

Two top E.U. finance officials gave a push forward to efforts to overhaul governance of the region’s banks, easing concerns that the bloc is failing to move swiftly enough to avoid future crises that could sink the euro.

Speaking in Berlin, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, signaled support for moving ahead with efforts to create a so-called banking union. Germany, and Mr. Schäuble in particular had been widely viewed as standing in the way of progress, demanding a potentially complicated treaty change to proceed.

“Naturally, with the inertia that we have in Europe, we cannot wait for treaty changes to solve current problems,” Mr. Schäuble told an audience at the Free University in Berlin. “We have to make the best of it on the basis of the current treaties.”

German officials say there has no been a change in their stance, but proponents see a softening in tone that could signal a new openness.

Meanwhile on Tuesday in Brussels, the president of the euro zone’s group of finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said it would be “dangerous” to delay moving ahead with a banking union. He said some of the bloc’s biggest banks could reveal new vulnerabilities as their accounts come under scrutiny in the next few months as part of a new round of so-called stress-test audits expected to be conducted by the European Central Bank.

Last month at a finance minister’s meeting in Dublin, Mr. Schäuble conceded that a banking union could go forward under current E.U. law. But he still insisted then that treaty change would eventually be needed for a new single banking supervisor, under the aegis of the E.C.B., to work effectively. As the euro zone’s paymaster, Germany has considerable clout in the banking union debate.

On Tuesday, Mr. Schäuble still said there was a need for “institutional changes” in the medium term, requiring changes to the treaty. But he indicated that near-term problems required timely attention.

German leaders, however, remain cautious about any moves that could lead to further euro zone demands for money from their country. Chancellor Angela Merkel, up for re-election in September, has shown little inclination to test the patience of a bailout-weary electorate.

E.U. leaders agreed last year to create a banking union as a way of breaking the so-called doom loop. This is a vicious circle in which states go so deeply into debt to support failing banks that they require bailouts or risk leaving the euro zone. But that agreement in principle has been hard to put into practice.

The question of how to regulate banks under a banking union has been politically contentious as the European debt crisis rumbles on.

Bailing out banks has been one of the biggest factors in Europe’s financial crisis, and Mr. Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, said Tuesday that Europe continued to face “very dangerous” situation unless all its members started using the same rule book for restructuring or shutting down failing banks.

A standard process for winding down troubled banks would be a key component of a banking union.