On 9th February 2012 at the ING Auditorium, Brussels, Assonime, Kreab Gavin Anderson and Bank of America Merrill Lynch hosted the European Financial Services Conference, for the tenth consecutive year. Now widely regarded as the premier annual financial services conference of its kind in Brussels, the EFSC gathered more than 400 senior bankers and policy-makers from around the world and discussed current issues affecting European and global financial markets (read the report).

The sessions focussed on Finance: renewal or retrenchment?; Re-thinking the trading landscape; and The eurozone and global stability and in particular on Europe’s search to consolidate its own post-crisis recovery and reinvigorate its position in global markets, the future of the trading landscape and the extent to which current programmes and systems need to be adapted to ensure the resources and flexibility needed for debt refinancing and restructuring.

Olivier Guersent, the head of cabinet for EU internal market commissioner Michel Barnier, delivered a keynote speech to present business leaders and said: "I don't believe we are going back to the 1930s. I believe that in the EU, and globally, we have the means in place to tackle the macro and the micro issues which face us. Yes, there is going to be a tough adjustment, and probably a limited recession. But not a slump."

Guersent, a former competition DG director, added, "Two crises are interacting with each other. The financial sector crisis of 2007-8 was not yet fully over – and the various safeguards to prevent a further such crisis not yet fully in place – when the sovereign crisis hit."Our European leaders have taken action to deal with the sovereign crisis, and global leaders in the G20 have laid down a clear roadmap for dealing with the financial crisis. But fears have been expressed that the severity of the medicine will take us back to the 1930s." He said, however, that he did want to take "such a gloomy line", adding, "I want to accentuate the positive, and stress how much we have achieved, and how much we are coordinating internationally to put coherent reforms in place. "Our number one goal has to be to prevent further collapses of financial institutions, and failing that, find a way to organise bank failure in a way which prevents both massive taxpayer intervention – which in any case cannot be afforded another time – and a systemic chain reaction."

The official, who joined the commission in 1992, added, "We have done a lot already, both in the EU and globally. We are well on the way to meeting our G20 commitments. So what's missing? Well, in the EU, there is obviously a major absentee, and that is an EU-level bank resolution mechanism. "Another thing which we need is an EU-level viewpoint on the structural issues in the banking sector." This was the reason, he said, that Barnier recently announced the creation of a high-level expert group on structural aspects of the EU banking sector to be led by governor of the Bank of Finland Erkki Liikanen.

He told the packed audience that he wanted to identify two "key things" to work on. "The first is the interaction between financial regulation and investment in the real economy and, second, facilitating the access to capital of SMEs." He added, "Yes, we need to do more. We need to look at the impact of capital requirements and especially risk weights, not just for sovereigns but for real economy investments." He also called for the financial stability board to be "beefed up, to receive a permanent status and to undergo a governance review". He said, "The FSB is here to stay and it needs to have the tools and the mandate to do its job, which is pushing countries to meet their G20 commitments. Enforcement is becoming a key word."We also need to make sure that our respective financial reforms don't lead to trade barriers and rolling back of trade liberalisation."

The second keynote address was delivered by Michael Dithmer, Permanent Secretary of State for Business and Growth, Denmark. He emphasized a series of priorities to be implemented.

Finance: renewal or retrenchment?
Banking and financial services are the lifeblood of economic development, and will be more crucial than ever as Europe seeks to reinvigorate its position in global markets. How successful has the financial services sector been in reforming its most controversial practices and reassuring public opinion that it is a responsible economic actor?

Are continental European and the 'Anglo-Saxon' financial centres and their chief institutions yet on the same page in matters of regulatory reform, and how much consensus on global financial services rules exists between the developed and developing worlds? Are banks and market participants in Asia's emerging (and creditor) economies content with the trend in financial services regulation and supervision? And how safe is the world economy from a replay of the near-meltdown in autumn 2008 of financial markets?

Re-thinking the trading landscape
The trading landscape is evolving rapidly. Consolidation is all around us, but at the same time there is also increasing competition between different types of trading venues. Is the consolidation of exchanges combining with the revision of MiFID to radically reduce the number of venues available to market participants, or is a more complex and deep-seated reorganisation underway? And what are the implications for the post-trading industry? Accelerating technological change is raising fundamental questions about disclosure rules, both pre- and post trading; in a world where orders may be automatically executed, withdrawn and added on the book within seconds, what is the optimal trade-off between transparency and security? Should Europe be taking note of the U.S. National Market System (NMS *) as a way of ensuring availability of consolidated data on trades or can Europe find its own path? What do reforms contained in MiFID, the European Market Infrastructure Regulation and the Transparency Obligations Directive mean for data availability across markets and asset classes?

The eurozone and global stability
With overall EU debt levels lower than in other comparable regions, why is the eurozone experiencing such crisis? Are the euro’s biggest problems political, compounded by ineffective and often contradictory messaging? Do proposals for fiscal integration and stronger central surveillance address this problem? Are assistance programmes for debtors of sufficient length and with bearable conditions?

Are changes needed to the European Stability Mechanism and the European Financial Stability Fund to ensure sufficient resources and operational flexibility? Is collaboration with the IMF working well? Under what circumstances is debt restructuring feasible and how should the private sector share the burden of restoring financial viability to sovereign debtors? Can the ECB and the eurosystem as a whole realistically be relieved of some of the burden of ensuring external financing to sovereign debtors? What is the likely impact on global growth, and what role do creditor regions have in resolving the eurozone crisis?

In this connection, the EU information letter on principles for the supervision of financial conglomerates is fundamental. Supervisory powers and authority, supervisory responsibility, corporate governance, capital adequacy and liquidity and risk management.

Mark Sobel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Monetary and Financial Policy, US Department of the Treasury delivered remarks on capital, resolution, derivatives, and the international regulatory reform agenda.

(*) NMS:
A national market system plan (or NMS plan) is a structured method of transmitting securities transactions in real-time. In the United States, national market systems are governed by section 11A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
In addition to processing the transactions themselves, these plans also emit the price and volume data for these transactions. Information on each securities trade is sent to a central network at the Securities Industry Automation Corporation (SIAC) where it is then distributed, consolidated with other trades on the same "tape". There are three major tapes in the United States: Tape A and Tape B (which together are called the "Consolidated Tape"), and Tape C (contains stocks listed on the NASDAQ Exchange or NASDAQ Small Cap Market, and is overseen by the OTC/UTP Operating Committee