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Cablegate: Views From Frankfurt On German Banking Regulation And

VZCZCXYZ3123
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHFT #0636/01 0641455
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 041455Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4987
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES IMMEDIATE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS FRANKFURT 000636

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS
TREASURY FOR LUKAS KOHLER/OFFICE FOR EUROPE AND EURASIA

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EFIN ECON EU GM

SUBJECT: Views from Frankfurt on German Banking Regulation and
Supervision in the Wake of the Subprime Turmoil


ENTIRE TEXT IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET
DISTRIBUTION

REF: DUESSELDORF 0007; b. 08 BERLIN 0161

1. SUMMARY. Following months of global financial turmoil, German
banking regulators have taken steps to harmonize and standardize
their practices. At the same time, Germany's Finance Minister has
become more vocal in criticizing the current regulatory system,
calling for higher capital requirements for banks. CG Frankfurt
Econ Off and Econ Spec met with Frankfurt-based banking officials
and executives to discuss views on tighter regulation, finding
general consensus that the recent demarcation of powers between
regulatory agencies was a positive development. On the other hand,
reactions to Finance Minister Steinbrueck's call for more action are
skeptical. Few believe that EU member states will cede supervisory
authority to the European Union, and will instead continue working
towards greater coordination and convergence. END SUMMARY.

BUNDESBANK AND BAFIN DEFINE COMPETENCIES
----------------------------------------
2. The February 5 agreement between Germany's central bank, the
Bundesbank, and its financial supervisor, the Federal Financial
Supervisory Authority (BaFin), ended a long-standing debate over
areas of responsibility between the two (reftel a). Officials at
the Bundesbank said they welcomed the agreement because it further
ensured the institution's long-standing reputation as Europe's most
independent central bank. The agreement leaves the Bundesbank
firmly in charge of everyday monitoring, while BaFin will assumes a
coordinating role (i.e. banking supervision, sanctions,
policy-making), including interacting with the Finance Ministry on
rule-making. The Bundesbank can now focus on its main duties:
maintaining stability and acting as a lender of last resort.

3. Private bankers have responded favorably to the agreement noting
that by eliminating duplication, the two bodies will save on
reporting costs. An executive at Deutsche Bank pointed to the
significant cost savings for smaller banks, resulting from fewer
BaFin special audits. An executive at Helaba said that leaving
day-to-day oversight with the Bundesbank "made sense" due to the
Bundesbank's location in Frankfurt -- Germany's financial capital.
Opinions varied on which supervisory institution benefited most from
the recent agreement, with some contacts noting that BaFin, as the
regulatory authority, had won the real power and others commenting
that Bundesbank, now firmly responsible for day-to-day auditing, had
most of the work. Most agreed, however, that the new agreement was
more efficient and made sense.

STEINBRUECK'S CALL FOR ACTION GETS LUKEWARM RESPONSE
--------------------------------------------- -------
4. Both before and during the recent G-7 Finance Minister meeting
in Tokyo, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck responded to
global financial turmoil, calling for Germany to tighten banking
regulation by raising capital requirements 2% over Basel II
guidelines, if necessary unilaterally (reftel b). With Basel II
only having gone into effect on January 1, 2008, Bundesbank
officials cautioned against premature conclusions. Moreover, they
criticized Steinbrueck's proposal as unnecessary, since most banks
already exceed the minimum requirement.

5. Officials at the European Central Bank (ECB) speculated that
Steinbrueck's proposal could be a back door to his goal of achieving
furthering bank consolidation. (Note: raising capital requirements
would disproportionately impact small banks.) They questioned
whether such a requirement would run counter to the European Union's
stated goal of maintaining a level playing field in the banking
sector. Several sources pointed out that Steinbrueck's call had
failed to address the real root of financial turmoil: special
investment vehicles and conduits that operated off balance sheets,
had no capital requirements, and had to be rescued by large
liquidity injections once the commercial paper market dried up.

TOWARDS AN EVER CLOSER UNION?
-----------------------------
6. Officials at the Bundesbank and the ECB agreed that European
supervisory bodies needed to move toward greater standardization,
but that a single European Union supervisory authority was unlikely,
even in the long run. The lack of common reporting standards among
eurozone members creates difficulties for the ECB, which makes
decisions on the basis of different methodologies that can not be
properly compared. ECB officials pointed out that since 2003 member
states have slowly moved towards convergence through the so-named
Lamfalussy framework and greater cooperation has been achieved
through the Committee of European Banking Supervisors. They further
argued that, even if the political will existed, the EU would need
to take on law-making authority and revise the union treaty, both of

which were unlikely.

7. COMMENT. As the full extent of the damage to the German banking
industry caused by the subprime crisis unfolds in 2008, the debate
on banking regulation will continue with officials and politicians
looking to ward off the next crisis. While the system has, for the
most part, responded well, experts here intend to keep a close eye
on the implementation of Basel II reforms and on how BaFin and the
Bundesbank adjust to their more clearly defined roles. Perhaps the
most critical question will be how politicians react if more banks
fail and the public outcry increases. END COMMENT.

8. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin and CG
DUESSELDORF.
POWELL

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