Q+A: Euro zone plans permanent crisis-resolution mechanism

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (BestGrowthStock) – Euro zone finance ministers agreed on Sunday to create the European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) — a permanent mechanism for resolving sovereign debt crises — from mid-2013.

Talks on the ESM, which ultimately envisages private bondholders sharing the cost of a sovereign debt restructuring, were initially due to take place in mid-December.

But the discussions were pushed forward by concern that Portugal and Spain might also be forced by financial markets to follow Greece and Ireland in seeking financial support.

Below are some details of the mechanism disclosed by European Union officials on Sunday:

WHAT IS IT?

The ESM will be based on the current European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) which provides financing to euro zone countries cut off from the markets, but under strict conditions.

WHEN WILL IT BE OPERATIONAL?

The mechanism would become operational only from July 1, 2013. The overall effectiveness of the mechanism would be evaluated in 2016 by the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

HOW WILL IT WORK?

All new bonds issued in the euro zone from July 1, 2013 will carry collective action clauses (CACs) which allow a specified majority of bond holders to overrule minority ones when seeking a debt restructuring deal with the sovereign.

Paris said the required majority would be 75-80 percent of bondholders to reach a deal. The CACs would be modeled on existing ones in the United States and Great Britain.

HOW WILL IT HANDLE DIFFERENT CRISES?

The mechanism will differentiate between liquidity and solvency crises.

LIQUIDITY CRUNCH: In a case where a euro zone government is solvent, but experiencing temporary liquidity problems, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF would conduct a debt sustainability analysis. On the basis of that analysis private investors would be encouraged to maintain their exposure to the debt of the sovereign. The EU would provide liquidity support to the government in trouble without any obligation for private sector involvement.

SOLVENCY CRISIS: If the liquidity crisis turns into a solvency crisis, each case would have to be negotiated separately to reach an agreement with the creditors. There would be no automatic solutions. The country in trouble would have to negotiate a comprehensive restructuring plan with private creditors and the ESM could provide liquidity assistance.

WHAT FORM WILL PRIVATE SECTOR INVOLVEMENT TAKE?

This will be decided on a case-by-case basis, in line with IMF policies.

Among the options available, private investors could be asked for a moratorium on debt repayment, a delay in interest payments and writedowns on the value of interest or even the principal owed to them by the government.

The principles of restructuring and support would be the same as the International Monetary Fund’s and all creditors would be treated in the same way.

HOW BIG WILL THE SUPPORT FUND BE?

The size of the ESM in terms of billions of euros has not been decided yet, but Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders said the pool of money would have to be bigger than the current 440 billion euros of the EFSF.

The ESM would function in the same way as the EFSF now — it would raise money on the market with euro zone government guarantees. No taxpayers’ money would be paid into it up front.

WHAT WILL THE STATUS OF ESM LOANS BE?

ESM loans will have preferred creditor status, junior only to IMF loans.

HOW WILL THE LEGAL GROUNDS BE PREPARED?

Changes to the EU treaty, necessary to create the ESM, will be discussed by EU leaders in mid-December.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Timothy Heritage)

Q+A: Euro zone plans permanent crisis-resolution mechanism