Cross posted from the European Tribune.

I’ve been waiting for one of our esteemed bankers or economists to cover this story because it seems to have major ramifications for Ireland, the EU and even the World.  In the absence of someone more qualified than I to comment – I offer up this lazy quote diary to raise what seems to be a very important issue.  Ireland has sometimes been accused of engaging in tax competition, but this seems to herald a new era of competition in trust and confidence.

The Irish Government has just guaranteed all deposits of Irish banks operating in Irish and foreign markets – but not foreign banks operating in Ireland – thus placing them at a major competitive disadvantage.  It also places Irish taxpayers in some jeopardy.  As a LTE to the Irish Times notes:

State guarantee for bank deposits – The Irish Times – Wed, Oct 01, 2008

Madam, – The value of the proposed bail-out in the US is equivalent to $2,000 per US citizen. The Irish bail-out could be worth up to €125,000 per man, woman and child. If US citizens won’t accept their bail-out, why should we accept something a hundred times larger?

The Government’s action is nothing more or less than a huge reward, underwritten by taxpayers, to banks for foolish lending, to the Financial Regulator for failing to regulate, and to its beloved construction industry.

It does absolutely nothing to address the underlying problems which the banks, Government and construction industry jointly created over the last five years by building, selling and financing grossly over-priced houses and commercial property.

This is the AIB and ICI rescue repeating itself. Where are the restrictions on bankers’ remuneration? Where are the equity stakes? Why should Irish taxpayers guarantee to bail out a bank that stupidly financed an overpriced property development in Dublin, London or Germany or made billions by conspiring with house builders to lock hundreds of thousands of young purchasers into huge mortgages for the rest of their working lives?

Irish households are among the most heavily borrowed in the world but, instead of helping them, the Government is giving guarantees worth a multiple of the Irish economy’s annual output to the Irish banks. This, on top of the hammering that households can expect in the coming budget. – Yours, etc,

Normally what happens in Ireland rarely causes a ripple amongst financial commentators world-wide, but this step seems to have really caught worldwide attention:

World media reports Government’s ‘extraordinary step’ – The Irish Times – Wed, Oct 01, 2008

Speculation is growing that other EU member states, in particular Britain and France, could follow in Ireland’s footsteps by deciding to guarantee savers’ bank deposits.

Newspapers around the world have reported on yesterday’s announcement with many suggesting that other nations will now have no choice but to take similar steps to safeguard their banking systems.

Many British newspapers claimed today that UK savers could benefit from the Government’s decision to guarantee all savers’ deposits, with most reporting that Post Office accounts in Britain are provided by the Bank of Ireland, while AIB and Anglo Irish Bank also operate there.

Will Hutton, writing in the Guardian, said that Britain is dithering and needs its own plan.

“Britain still does not have a comprehensive system of deposit insurance for retail depositors, let alone some temporary guarantee for wholesale depositors as announced yesterday in Ireland – largely because the government has genuflected towards bankers’ concern at its expense,” said Hutton.

The London Independent reports that the UK government is being called on to fully guarantee savers deposits following yesterday’s move by the Irish Government.

Among those calling for steps to be taken, according to the newspaper, are the country’s third biggest political party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Financial Services Consumer Panel, an independent body set up to represent consumers by the Financial Services Authority, the City watchdog,

In the same paper, Jeremy Warner noted that Britain and other EU members are slowly moving towards a decision to guarantee deposits but adds that “only Ireland has so far gone the whole hog and made something that was always implicit legally explicit”.

However, he warns: “The potential is there for Ireland’s actions to spark a beggar thy neighbour round of similar guarantees. In these markets, money will chase the safest havens. Bank deposits that are guaranteed by the taxpayer take on the characteristics of government bonds.

“Unless everyone else does the same thing, Ireland therefore becomes the safest place in Europe to keep your money. As such, it amounts to a form of unfair, or even illegal, state aid. As it is, there are bound to be concerns that the guarantee applies only to Irish banks, and not foreign-owned deposit-takers in the same jurisdiction.

Mr Warner suggests that Ireland may ensure a chain reaction of similar guarantees across Europe.

“Yet though others may eventually be forced to follow, they won’t be keen,” he claims.

“To them, Ireland looks like a special case. The country is already in recession after the end of a long property boom, and all its major banks are highly exposed to the domestic mortgage market, for which at present there is virtually no funding outside retail deposits.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail warns that the two-year unlimited guarantee on all deposits is “expected to cause anger” among the many UK banks operating in the country.

“Ulster Bank, an offshoot of Royal Bank of Scotland, is Ireland’s third biggest lender but it is not covered by the new rules. However, since all overseas branches are also covered by the safety net, Irish banks are at a significant advantage to their European rivals,” it said.

The Financial Times claims that yesterday’s move “is not so much the proverbial Irish solution to an Irish problem as an Irish solution to what is a global problem”.

“Tuesday’s guarantee offered by the Irish government to its six national banks to safeguard €400 billion of deposits and bank debt is causing ructions in Brussels, where there is concern the Irish move shatters any hope of pan-European regulatory response to the turmoil,” the paper said.

The Daily Telegraph describes the Government’s plan as the most dramatic and comprehensive bank bail-out in Europe since the Scandinavian rescues of the early 1990s” and adds that it “may serve as a model for Britain and other countries that so far have been muddling through from one mishap to another with a mish-mash of ad hoc policies”.

BBC News Online notes that the move “has huge ramifications” for Britain. Robert Preston writes:”Potentially it puts British banks at a massive competitive disadvantage – especially since other European governments are also taking urgent steps to reassure their citizens that their bank deposits are safe.”

El Pais described the Irish Government’s plan as “a dramatic decision”, while In the US, the Wall Street Journal said the move was “an extraordinary step” which was “one of the most ambitious measures taken by a government since the [credit crunch] crisis began more than a year ago.”

The EU Commission is said to be very concerned at the Irish move as it could cut across attempts to craft a Pan-European response.  It didn’t consider the Fortis bail-out to constitute “state-aid” but this latest move could change the whole ball game and raise the bar for everyone else.  

[Update]Following on from the Lisbon Treaty debacle, this is not going to make the Irish Government any more popular with their EU partners.  In fairness, the Irish Government was in an unprecedented dilemma:  The Irish Stock market lost 13% on Friday and the banks have lost c. 75% of the value in recent months, and were having great difficulty raising funds.  Cowen met Sarkozy today to talk about the Lisbon Treaty.  After wards the Irish Times reported:

Cowen says Sarkozy ‘understands’ bank plan – The Irish Times – Wed, Oct 01, 2008

The Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he believes French President Nicolas Sarkozy supports the Government’s decision to guarantee the deposits and borrowings of six Irish-owned lenders.

Speaking after a meeting with President Sarkozy in Paris the Taoiseach said: “Yes, I think the president understands precisely why the Irish government had to act and the circumstances in which we found ourselves. There is a full understanding of the Irish government’s position.”

Mr Cowen said the move was and effort to “bring stability in our own system in a way that was available to us”.

Commenting on the reaction from the British government Mr Cowen said the stance taken by Prime Minister Gordon Brown “obviously would be reflecting some concerns by other banks in Ireland that are not incorporated in the state”.

“Every state is responsible for its own bank centre incorporated in their respective state,” Mr Cowen said.

In the meantime, I am happy to accept cheques from ET members who wish to deposit their funds in an Irish Bank.  Just make them payable to Frank Schnittger….:-)

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