The European Union is considering a dramatic revision of the current institutional arrangement concerning banking regulation and supervision. Currently, members of the EU must implement international capital standards -- the Basel accords -- but regulation of domestic financial sectors is left up to national governments. Some governments choose to have their central banks regulate, others give that authority to a separate agency; each is fine under current EU rules.
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria are willing to back a powerful supranational supervisor, and a decision to relinquish national control over cross-border banks is being prepared for next week’s EU summit, according to senior officials. One said the new-found political impetus was “astonishing”.The "astonishing" political impetus has come from the fact that the EU is currently experiencing a number of bank runs, capital flight from the periphery to the core, and a general lack of trust in the solvency of many of its financial institutions. To shore up confidence, many in the EU would like to create a "banking union" that would involve continent-wide deposit insurance for EU banks. In exchange for that guarantee, states would have to give up sovereignty to a higher body, which would presumably be heavily influenced by the core European countries (in this case, Britain, Germany, and France).
What would the effect of this be? It turns out that I've done some research on that question.* That work suggests that the answer is: it depends. Specifically, it depends on who the regulator would be. The top two choices appear to be the European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority. Why does it matter?
My research, building off of some work by Copelovitch and Singer, argues that giving regulatory authority to central banks alters the policymaking incentives that central bankers face. Without getting too wonky, it incentives central banks to privilege the needs of the banking sector when choosing monetary policy, as financial instability could lead to the loss of their authority. This, in turn, incentivizes banks to behave more riskily, as they expect to receive preferential treatment from sympathetic central banks, so long as they stay above the statutory requirements. The cumulative result is a more bank-friendly monetary regime (the Copelovitch and Singer result) and a more risk-friendly banking sector (my result, supported by a ton of statistical tests). This may not be what the EU currently has in mind.
On the other hand, regulatory central banks may be better able to prevent financial instability in the first place by tailoring policy to the needs of the financial sector. I do not explicitly study this question, and I doubt it is strictly true, but central bankers have argued according to this logic in the past. Alternatively, unifying regulatory and monetary authority could reduce institutional competition and lead to better-coordinated policies. Of course, if that coordination is in a direction that rewards greater risk-taking by EU banks then that might not be the best thing.
*Currently under review so no link, but interested parties can e-mail me for a copy.