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EU lawmakers complete financial system overhaul

BRUSSELS - The European Parliament on Tuesday completed the biggest overhaul of the bloc's financial system since the introduction of the euro currency, passing laws to minimize the risk and cost posed by failing banks.

Lawmakers signed off on the creation of a European authority with the power to unwind or restructure failing banks, as well as a system that will see banks' creditors -- not governments -- take losses first when lenders fail.

The new rules "put an end to the era of massive bailouts and ensure taxpayers will no longer foot the bill when banks face difficulties," said Michel Barnier, the EU Commissioner in charge of financial market reform.

Parliament also passed legislation that protects all deposits of up to 100,000 euros ($138,000) in case of bank failures across the 28-nation bloc.

The votes bring to a close an ambitious reform program launched in the wake of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Because of the crisis, European governments pumped some 600 billion euros (currently $830 billion) into saving ailing banks, according to EU figures.

The EU -- in particular the 18 countries that use the euro -- has focused on creating a so-called banking union, a set of new institutions and rules meant to prevent another crisis by making the financial system more resilient and improving oversight.

The euro currency, used by some 330 million people, was introduced in 2002 but its financial system remained a patchwork governed by different national rules, a situation that proved unworkable during the financial crisis.

"Tuesday's votes are a huge step," said Bert Van Roosebeke of the Centre for European Policy, a Germany-based think tank. "But now the decisions will have to be implemented, the work isn't over."

Starting in November, the European Central Bank will directly supervise the eurozone's biggest lenders with binding powers over national authorities. A separate authority will have the power - and funds - to dissolve or restructure any failing banks.

The parliament's approval of that authority in a 570-88 vote with 13 abstentions marks the final step in building the banking union.

The authority, called single resolution mechanism, will have a 55 billion-euro ($76 billion) fund at its disposal, financed by bank levies, enabling it to handle cross-border bank failures.

Some, however, question whether the fund's firepower will be sufficient to handle serious banking crises.

"It isn't exactly unlikely that it won't be sufficient," said Van Roosebeke, adding European policy makers have yet to spell out a credible system of backstops in case of a systemic banking crisis.

To that end, Parliament also adopted with overwhelming majority a set of rules that spell out who will take losses first in case a bank fails. Under the rules, a bank's creditors -- those with large deposits there or holding its bonds -- will have to take losses before the government helps out.

In the case of a major bank like Britain's Barclays, creditors would be hit to the tune of 140 billion euros before government help would be needed, or about 100 billion euros for France's Societe Generale, according to EU Parliament spokesman John Schranz.

"From now on, taxpayers will not systematically foot the bill for bank losses," said EU Parliament President Martin Schulz.

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