Concern over Irish debt deal

 

The possibility of German, Finnish or Dutch MPs disputing a new debt deal for Ireland is emerging as a prime concern among European negotiators as preparations advance for a review of the Irish bank bailout.

Although EU leaders have given the go-ahead for a fundamental revision of the rescue scheme in the autumn, parliamentary approval will be needed in many countries for an extension of European aid to Ireland.

On the table is the provision of about €30 billion in bonds from a European bailout fund to the former Anglo Irish Bank to replace expensive State-funded promissory notes.

There is also the possibility of the European Stability Mechanism permanent fund taking a direct equity stake in Allied Irish Banks, the Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB.

A senior European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has told The Irish Times that the need for a parliamentary vote in many countries presents a high degree of “political risk” to the initiative given the strength of anti-bailout sentiment among MPs in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands.

It is in these countries that Europe’s bailout policy has proved most contentious and each of their governments habitually adopts a hard line with aid recipients.

“Ministers for finance, if they have to, go to parliament. They’d prefer not to go,” the official said.

This was a far bigger issue for governments than any of the technical problems they must overcome to provide debt relief to Ireland.

The official also noted that the composition of the Dutch parliament, which must vote on any new Irish deal, will not be known until after a general election there on September 12th.

Negotiators in Brussels and other cities are working on the basis that the Anglo procedure will go ahead first because direct aid to the other banks is conditional on the establishment of a new pan-European bank supervisor next year.

The release of European bonds to the former Anglo would be in addition to the €40.2 billion Ireland is receiving from European sources under the original bailout agreement.

This is one element of the package which would certainly necessitate parliamentary votes in a number of countries.

The key issue in this part of the negotiation is the rate of interest which would be charged on any bonds from the temporary European Financial Stability Facility or its successor, the ESM.

The basic idea is that the Government would remain on the hook for EFSF or ESM bonds given to the former Anglo but that the annual interest rate charged would be far lower than the 8.2 per cent which applies now.

Precisely what rate would be charged remains subject to negotiation, the official said.

Under present arrangements the State would pay €16.8 billion in interest by 2031, bringing the total cost of the Anglo note scheme to €47.4 billion. The interest payment foreseen next year is €490 million.

The Government has long held the provision of medium-term funding to the former Anglo from the European Central Bank to be crucial to the debt relief campaign.

Negotiators expect the ECB would assist the new arrangement but there is no advance commitment from the bank. At issue in the negotiation of direct aid to AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB is when the ESM takes equity stakes in these banks, at what price and at what risk.

The European bailout of Spain’s banks, to be signed off today by finance ministers, may create a precedent. However, the official said Europe’s memorandum of understanding with the Spanish government is silent on how the ESM fund will take direct stakes in its banks.

EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn said after a meeting last week of euro zone finance ministers that the EU-IMF “troika” will table a formal proposal in September in anticipation of a final deal in October.

Even though Mr Rehn said finance ministers unanimously approved of that timetable, the euro zone official said it should be noted that the ministers’ post-meeting statement did not bind them to it.

In spite of their political commitment to strike a deal in October, this reflected concern to minimise any political problems before the talks begin in earnest.

The official said the Government’s appeal for relief has won the hearts of its European partners.

In question now is the development of a proposal to win their heads, subject to seeing that through the political process.

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