There are four main institutions of the European Union (EU), three political and one judicial. The four main EU institutions are made up of the Council of the EU, the European Commission, the European parliament and the European Court of Justice.
The Council of the EU forms, along with the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the EU. The Council of the EU is made up of ministers from the governments of each of the EU member states and meets in Brussels or Luxembourg to agree legislation and policy. It is sometimes referred to in official EU documents as the Council or the Council of Ministers. It is the EU's main decision-making body and on certain issues, the Council shares it's legislative power in what is known as "co-decision" with the European Parliament. The two institutions act jointly as the EU's budgetary authority. The Council also makes decisions concerning the EU's common foreign and security policy and with co-coordinating the activities of member states and adopting measures in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
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The Council of the European Union has a President and a Secretary-General. The President of the Council is a Minister of the state currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For the period of June to December 2010 Belgium holds this position.
The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union. Alongside the European Parliament and the Council, it is one of the three main institutions governing the Union. Its main roles are to propose and implement draft legislation, which provides the legal basis for the EU. The role of the European Commission is similar to that of any national government. The Commission consists of 25 Commissioners, one from each member state of the EU. The term "the Commission" is used to refer to both to the administrative body and to the team of Commissioners who lead it. Unlike the Council of the EU, the Commission is intended to be a body that acts independently of member states. Commissioners are therefore not allowed to take instructions from their own government, and should represent the concerns and interests of the citizens of the EU as a whole. The Commission is headed by a President (this is currently José Manuel Barroso). Its headquarters are located in Brussels and its working languages are English, French and German.
The Commission is the EU's administrative and executive body. It is headed by a president - currently José Manual Barroso, the former Portuguese prime minister - and has a further 24 commissioners. Each member state appoints a commissioner who must be approved by the European Parliament. It also represents the EU on the international stage and negotiates international agreements, mainly in the field of trade and co-operation.
The European Parliament is the parliamentary body of the EU, and is directly elected by EU citizens once every five years. Ireland currently has 12 MEPs and they were elected in June 209. When the EU enlarged to include 10 new countries in May 2004, the European Parliament increased from 626 to 732 members. As previously stated, the Parliament shares, with the Council of Ministers, the power to legislate and acts as the EU's budgetary authority. The Parliament also manages the democratic supervision of the EU Commission. The Parliament acts as a watchdog of sorts and evaluates the various activities of the other EU institutions, questioning proposals and actions of both the Council and the Commission. In terms of decision making the European Parliament has quite restricted legislative powers. It cannot initiate legislation, the Commission can only do this, but it does have the power to veto the legislation in many policy areas. In certain other policy areas, it can only be consulted. The Parliament also supervises the European Commission and must approve all appointments to it, and can dismiss it with a vote of censure. It also has the right to control the EU budget. It's involved in the budgetary process from the preparation stage, notably in laying down the general guidelines and the type of spending. When the EU budget is being debated, it has the power to table amendments to any non-compulsory expenditure but only to propose amendments to compulsory expenditure. Finally it is responsible for adopting the budget and it monitors its implementation.
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The Court of Justice of the European Communities, usually called the European Court of Justice (ECJ), is the supreme court of the European Union (EU). It is based full time in Luxembourg, unlike most of the rest of the European Union institutions, which are based in Brussels or Strasbourg (or both). The Court has a judge from each member state that sits for a term of six years. The Irish judge currently sitting on the Court of Justice is Aindrias Ó Caoimh. Prior to this he was judge of the High Court of Ireland. The Court adjudicates on all legal issues and disputes involving EU law and must ensure that Community law is uniformly interpreted and effectively applied. It deals with two main types of actions: those referred to it by national courts for rulings of interpretation of Community law; and those started by one of the other institutions.
Responses of the EU:
In October 2008, when the true extent of the global economic financial crisis was being realized, the EU leaders set up a crisis management team and also committed to set up a monthly forum where they could have oversight of all financial structures across the EU. The EU Commission urged all European governments to adopt a common set of principles to address the economic crisis. The measures the nations supported were largely in line with those that had already been implemented in the UK and Ireland.
Recapitalisation: Governments promised to provide funds to banks that might be struggling to raise capital and pledged to pursue wide-ranging restructuring of the leadership of those banks that are turning to the government for capital.
State ownership: governments indicated that they would buy shares in the banks that are seeking Recapitalisation.
Government debt guarantees: guarantees offered for any new debts, including inter-bank loans, issued by the banks in the euro zone area.
Improved regulations: the governments agreed to encourage regulations to permit assets to be valued on their risk of default, instead of their current market price.
The EU president of the Commission had called out the need to ensure that the member states developed an integrated solution to the ongoing crisis. The EU council was involved in advocating the need for much tougher supervision of the financial sector. It would take two years before a plausible and realistic roadmap was put in place, (but even then, it is a plan for progression rather than a completed body of doctrine). The EU Leaders at least agreed that a common set of rules and regulations was required to regulate the EU wide financial markets, and to change the previously held "soft touch regulation".
At the start of 2009 5 main areas of discussion were mapped out;
Enhanced transparency and accountability
Implementing proper regulation
Building integrity in the financial markets
Strengthening cooperation between member states
Total reform of international financial institutions.
These areas would go on to form the basis for the October 2010 road map for change.
The crisis had exposed the vast difference between the EU member states and reaching a common agreement on how best to reform the policies and process of the EU proved to be difficult. This was mainly due to the reason that many individual states had taken measures to protect their own economies. EU members were forced to retrospectively support measures to increase the guarantees on bank accounts for depositors in response to actions taken by some Governments, namely Ireland, Greece and Germany. Some EU members were also considering procedures to deal with the bad loans of banks within their jurisdictions, which had pushed the EU as a whole to follow suit and consider the best approach to deal with these toxic loans. This and other issues exposed the many differences among the EU members as to what was the best approach to deal with financial market reforms and economic stimulus measures.
The European Central Bank decided to cut interest rates to improve liquidity. It is responsible for setting interest rates for the 16 members of the Euro zone, and cut its interest rates by half a percentage point to 3.25%, (it would go on to be cut several more times to its current low of 1%). The cut in rates came as the IMF published an emergency update of its economic forecasts, predicting that the economies of the developed countries would shrink further in 2009. In response to these cuts, the Bank of England also cut its key interest rates by 1.5 percent points to 3%. The cut was three times larger than any seen since the central bank's monetary policy committee was established.
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As previously stated, Ireland, Greece, and Germany had also increased their guarantees to deposit holders to improve liquidity in their own financial systems, a move that was adopted by the EU as a whole, to curtail a form of regulatory competition for depositors. There was a very real fear that foreign depositors would flood Irish banks with funds, thereby increasing the Irish Government's commitment to unmanageable levels. The IMF also approved a short-term liquidity facility to assist banks facing liquidity problems.
The way forward:
The roadmap for progression has now been put in place. I will now set out what it aims to cover, to address what happened and to ensure it doesn't happen again. It can be broken down into four main areas:
Crisis prevention and management
The EU Commission aims to ensure that no institution is exempt from regulation and appropriate supervision. The aim of the transparency measures will ensure that all appropriate information is made available to Governments and to the General public. The following initiatives aim to achieve this.
â€¢ AIFM Directive proposal: this will ensure that all Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) comply with a comprehensive set of rules and regulations before being allowed access to EU markets. This means that hedge funds and private equity firms, who increase the risk within the market place, are governed by a set of common rules
â€¢ Derivatives and short selling: Derivatives are financial contracts that are linked to the future value of an asset (currency values, interest rates) and covers the purchaser given any loss and Short-selling is the process whereby shares can be sold without even being owned. This involves shares being loaned from a third party and then subsequently sold, on the promise that the shares are returned (when bought at a lower price sometime in the future). It plays on the principal that share prices will decline and allows for a profit to be made now. Clearly both of these practices increase risk in the market place and the Commission is now proposing to increase the transparency in these markets so that regulators have the power to monitor and control the overall risk
Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID): The Commission wants to ensure more transparency in the trading of financial instruments, detailing what price was paid for which asset and when. This will allow Member states and regulators to have a more accurate overview of the way different instruments trade across Europe.
The Commission is proposing that action needs to be taken against those that played and abused the market. They aim to implement stiffer penalties and accountability for actions taken.
Prevention of Market abuse: In this instance the Commission has set out a plan to increase the powers of state regulators to allow them to investigate and penalise accordingly those who have blatantly abused the system.
Corporate governance: The Commission plans to bring in better supervision of senior management of banks and financial institutions. This will include limits on the number of mandates board members may hold and will improve the "fit and proper" test to make sure that those holding certain roles with a financial institution are properly qualified to do such a job. (I do find a slight irony with this plan, as there is no minimum qualification a TD in Ireland needs to have to become a member of the Dail. Ex GAA managers are being chased by the main government parties to run for election and basically govern the country and implement national policy, yet at a EU community level the Commission is implementing rules to ensure that company heads within the states are properly qualified). The risk culture within financial institutions will be strengthened under this aim also, to ensure that proper risk and credit committees are in place to make the credit decisions. Wages and general remuneration policies are also under review
In any EU member state the majority of Banks that operate there are foreign owned. What the financial crisis has exposed is that there are very blurred lines of supervision in existence. The supervisory framework that exists is to be reviewed and strengthened.
European supervisory framework: This new supervisory framework is due to be in place for 2011, and will consist of a new European Systemic Risk Board to ensure that macro-economic risks are detected early. Three different Supervisory authorities will fulfil this role: a European Banking Authority (EBA), European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), and a European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).
Credit rating agencies: The whole process and role of CRAs is a personal gripe of mine and a line I roll out time and time again is; "who rates the ratings agencies". These agencies issue ratings and opinions based on their own assessment of an institutions or a country's creditworthiness. New rules are already in place that forces these agencies to register with the EU (or rather with ESMA within the EU) before they can issue reports and also to report data to Regulators. ESMA will have exclusive supervisory powers will be able to make information requests of the agencies and investigate any issues that they feel is appropriate. I believe this is a particularly beneficial proposal of the Commission. I detest turning on the news and hearing how a renowned agency has downgraded my Institutions or even Irelands creditworthiness and labelling us with a rather arbitrary rating.
4. Crisis Prevention and management:
It goes without saying that the Commission wants to have plans in place to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude does not happen again or least that they have the ability ot predict when it may be imminent. The following initiatives aim to achieve this.
Capital Requirements Directive (CRD): A big factor in the economic crisis was the inadequacy of the Basel 2 requirements, whereby institutions were allowed to use their own internal models to determine capital requirements. To improve and correct these inadequacies the CRD proposes that financial institutions hold a buffer amount of capital in reserve, to be added to during times of economic growth and stability on the premise that it can be used during downturns and recessions. This will limit institutions reliance on bailouts and ultimately save the taxpayer from having to take the hit.
Accounting standards: The EU is working to reach a global agreement on accounting standards. It will ensure that accounting standards, which are primarily intended to provide useful information to users for their decisions, better reflect the fundamental value of a company. This will link in with other public policy objectives, including prudential regulation and financial stability.
Resolution funds: the Commission is proposing to establish an EU network of pre-financed bank resolution funds. This will mean that the costs involved in transferring assets and liabilities from a failed bank will not be borne by the taxpayer. This is not intended to be an insurance policy for banks to be used for bailouts, but will act as a safety net to ensure that if a bank does fail that is well managed and does not cause a failure in the overall financial system. Lehman Brothers springs to mind here. No bank should be too big to fail.
Consumer confidence: in line with what the Irish Government did in , by providing the bank Guarantee scheme, the commission is proposing to review the Guarantee scheme directive and to increase the protection available to depositors, who ate most likely to be at risk should a failure occur.