Working paper series / Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Institute for Law and Finance
Systemic risks, regulatory powers and insolvency law : the need of an international instrument on the private law framework for netting
- This study examines the legal environment of netting agreements covering financial contracts. It concludes that an international instrument should be developed capable of improving the effectiveness of netting agreements in mitigating systemic risk. To this end, two different aspects of the enforceability of netting agreements are considered: (i) the general enforceability of netting, and (ii) the possibility of precluding the operation of netting a mechanism by way of a regulatory moratorium for considerations of systemic stability. The first part of the study presents the use of netting and the various forms it may take before going on to explain the benefits and drawbacks of enforceable netting agreements. Benefits for individual firms consist in lower counterparty risk and more favourable capital requirements. Benefits for the financial market as a whole flow from greater financial market stability since the contagion of systemically relevant institutions by the default or insolvency of another institution is limited, thus helping to avoid systemic effects. Additionally, the use of netting arrangements can improve overall market liquidity. A potential drawback of enforceability of netting, in certain situations, is that the operation of a netting mechanism could actually work against the purpose of systemic stability where the transfer of parts of the business of an insolvent financial institution to a solvent bridge entity would enhance or maintain value to a greater extent than the operation of a netting agreement would. Regulatory authorities are considering under which conditions a moratorium to halt the netting mechanism until the situation is solved could avoid this threat to systemic stability. The second part of the study examines whether there is the potential to support the purpose of enhanced systemic stability by way of international harmonisation of private and insolvency law. As regards the issue of general enforceability, the global picture of netting legislation is heterogeneous. Given the great practical relevance of the matter, an international instrument could be very useful. As to the issue of private law consequences of regulatory moratoria, the absence of a harmonised framework appears to lead to actual cross-border inconsistency and legal uncertainty as regards financial contracts that are governed by a foreign law. Taking these to aspects into account, this paper recommends that work on developing an international instrument be undertaken. The final part of the study suggests a set of preliminary guidelines for the development of suchan instrument. In the light of the findings of the previous sections, a mixed, two-step approach is recommended. First, a non-binding instrument could be developed, serving as a benchmark and reservoir of legal solutions in respect of the relevant issues. Secondly, isolated aspects relating to both the general enforceability of netting and the accommodation of a regulatory moratorium in foreign private and insolvency law could be dealt with in an international Convention, in particular where cross-border situations involving netting require uniformity of applicable legal rules.
The electronic exchange of information and respect for private life, banking secrecy and the free internal market
- The purpose of this essay is to assess the automatic exchange of information as described in EU Directive 2003/48 of 3 June 2003 on taxation of savings income in the form of interest payments with regard to the fundamental right of the individual to a private life, to banking secrecy and the freedoms on which the European internal market is based. The assessment reveals the conflicts of interests and values involved in the holding by banks (particularly those offering private banking services) of increasingly extensive, detailed and intimate information about their clients and in the automatic processing of that information by ever more powerful and sophisticated systems. Banking secrecy plays an essential role in protecting clients against the dangers which the disclosure of such information without their permission might produce. Banking secrecy exists not only in Luxembourg but also in many other European countries, and in Germany and France in particular it is not very different from the system applying in Luxembourg. While the French and German tax authorities do have some investigative powers not enjoyed by their Luxembourg counterparts, those powers are strictly circumscribed and cannot rely on the electronic exchange of information set out in EU Directive 2003/48/EC. While banking secrecy is totally incompatible with the electronic exchange of information, the core question is whether the latter can be reconciled with the respect for private life. In a Europe that sets itself up as the cradle of human rights, the general and en-masse exchange of private information cannot provide adequate and sufficient guarantees that the information exchanged will not be misused. The amount of interference in private life is clearly out of proportion to the public interest involved and is contrary to sub-section 2, article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Since the automatic exchange of information at least potentially risks restricting the free flow of capital among Member States and discouraging the use of transborder banking services, its compliance with the fundamental principles of the internal market also needs to be closely examined. The restrictions imposed by such exchange very probably go beyond the limits within which the free movement of capital and services is possible. The European Court of Justice has found that there is no proportionality if the measures supposedly undertaken in the general interest are actually based on a general presumption of tax evasion or tax fraud. However, it would be true to say that the ECJ does not always examine the tax restrictions placed on the free movement of capital particularly thoroughly to ensure that they are necessary or proportionate. The economic effectiveness of the automatic exchange of information is far from being proved and involves significant cost to the banks providing the information and to the tax authorities using it. To date the system does not appear to have produced any significant new tax revenue nor does it prevent the continuing outflow of capital from Europe. Yet withholding at source, which respects individual and economic freedoms, does generate tax revenue that is cost-free to the State. Exchange of information on request in justified cases using the OECD Tax Convention on Income and Capital model does also fight tax fraud while at the same time providing citizens with the guarantees required to ensure their private lives are respected. A combination of these two systems - withholding at source and exchange of information on request in justified cases - would create the proper balance between the public and private interest that the automatic exchange of information cannot provide.