EU Commission President criticizes Polish move to challenge EU bank merger decision
BRUSSELS, Belgium – Poland’s challenge to the European Union’s approval of a cross-border bank merger and government moves that could undermine the central bank raise questions about its commitment to European ideals, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Monday.Warsaw and Brussels have sparred over Poland’s refusal to clear part of the UniCredit-HVB deal, which the Polish government claims could damage the nation’s banking market. The EU says it had sole authority to approve the deal last October.”When at least in terms of perception the autonomy of the central bank is put in question, this is certainly not the best way to show engagement with our European model,” Barroso said.”When, for example, you launch a procedure in the European Court of Justice against the European Commission because you think the commission is applying the competition laws, this is not the best way,” he said at a debate organized by the Centre for European Reform think-tank.Poland has defied the European Union by blocking UniCredit SpA’s takeover bid for Bank BPH, Poland’s third-largest, as part of its broader takeover of German lender HVB Group AG. When UniCredit bought HVB last year for 15.4 billion euros ($18.7 billion), it also picked up Bank BPH.Poland says the merger between BPH and the nation’s second-largest bank, Pekao SA, – which UniCredit bought in 1999 – would slash jobs and shrink competition.Last month Poland filed a legal complaint against EU regulators, claiming that their decision to clear the deal did not properly take into account the effect it would have for free competition on the Polish banking market.The commission started legal action against Poland on March 8, saying it broke EU rules on the free movement of capital and the right of companies to do business anywhere in the 25-nation bloc when it refused to clear the Polish part of the merger between Germany’s HVB Group AG and Italy’s UniCredit SpA.Warsaw could eventually be forced to change its decision or risk being fined.The Polish government denies charges of protectionism, saying it is merely upholding a 1999 privatization agreement UniCredit signed when it bought into Pekao.That pact forbade the Italian bank from engaging in any other “competitive activities” in the Polish banking market, a provision meant to prevent one company taking too large a chunk of the banking sector.Poland’s Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz blamed recent aggravation in the dispute on central bank head Leszek Balcerowicz, who excluded a government representative from a session of banking supervisory authorities that was to pave the way for the takeover of BPH.
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