Spain seeks direct EU bank aid, Germany resists

Mon Jun 4, 2012 11:34am EDT
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By Fiona Ortiz

MADRID (Reuters) - Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is pressing for a direct European rescue for Spain's banks with moral support from the European Commission, but Germany appeared to rule out such a "bailout lite" for the euro zone's fourth biggest member.

A source with knowledge of the matter said Madrid is working along with European institutions to find a way to directly refinance banks using rescue funds without the government having to come under a full EU/IMF adjustment program.

"Right now the most urgent issue is the banks, and there are negotiations to refinance the banks directly without it being an intervention. It's a mechanism for all (European) banks, not just for Spanish banks," the source said.

Spain's borrowing costs have jumped in recent weeks, largely due to doubts over whether the government can raise enough funds for the rising bill to strengthen its banks, left with big holes after the 2008 crash of the housing and construction market.

Under current rules Spain can get a loan from the European rescue fund, or EFSF, but it would come with tough conditions and intrusive supervision, with a high political cost for Rajoy. The new permanent European rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), due to enter into force in July, can lend to banks but the request still has to be made by the state.

The source with knowledge of the matter said Spain believed the European Union's executive could take a plan for bank aid to a summit of the bloc's leaders on June 28-29.

EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said Brussels was considering direct bank recapitalization by the ESM to break the link between weak sovereigns and ailing banks, but it was not possible under the treaty currently being ratified by member states.

"This is not part of the ESM treaty for the moment, in its present form, but we see that it is important to consider this alternative of direct bank recapitalization as we are now moving on in the discussion on the possible ways and means to create a banking union," Rehn said.   Continued...

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy smiles during a meeting at Moncloa palace in Madrid June 4, 2012. REUTERS/Andrea Comas