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EU considers shifting burden of bank failures

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said a bank rescue plan is top EU priority.
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said a bank rescue plan is top EU priority.

BRUSSELS — European Union governments want to shift the cost of rescuing troubled banks from taxpayers to the banks’ creditors — including the holders of large deposits — as part the region’s plan to shore up its shaky financial system.

Finance ministers from the 27-country bloc meeting in Brussels on Tuesday sought to hammer out the new rules on how to fund bank rescues but their discussions showed that they were still far from agreeing on the technicalities underpinning the project to build a Europe-wide banking union. That plan is key to strengthening the financial sector and avoid a repeat of the crisis.

‘‘This is at the moment the biggest project for Europe,’’ said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsbselbloem. ‘‘It’s absolutely important to get it right.’’

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The bloc should move swiftly and get all elements of the banking union running by 2015, well before the initial deadline of 2018, added Dijsselbloem, who also chairs the meetings of the 17-country eurozone’s finance ministers.

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Tuesday’s meeting focused on establishing a hierarchy of which bank creditors have to take losses in case the bank needs rescuing — to be involved in a ‘‘bail-in.” The ministers mostly agreed that banks’ shareholders and capital must take the first hit. After that, the pecking order becomes less clear, with junior and senior bondholders and, ultimately, all the banks’ clients on the line.

Most ministers said holders of deposits of over $130,000 — the EU’s deposit insurance ceiling — could be forced to suffer losses as a last resort, said Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Deposits below $130,000 are ‘‘sacrosanct’’ and will always be protected, he added.

While making large depositors take a hit would help limit the losses borne by other classes of creditors, some ministers expressed worries it could jeopardize financial stability and scare off savers.

The issue has become ­important since the bailout for Cyprus, agreed on in March, ­inflicted losses on deposits over $130,000 at the country’s two biggest banks. An initial proposal was to have all deposits suffer losses. The proposal raised concerns and confusion across Europe on how bank creditors would be treated in future bank rescues.