Germany moved toward a new bank levy to cover the cost of future bailouts Wednesday, and France said it would pursue a parallel effort as leading world economies weigh strategies for curbing speculation and preventing future crises.
A proposal approved by the German cabinet would create an annual levy on balance sheets, excluding customers' deposits, that could generate up to $1.6 billion annually. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who was at the German cabinet meeting Wednesday as the levy was discussed, said French officials will unveil their own planned levy "very soon."
"The German considerations are very useful," Lagarde said.
A joint French-German statement after the meeting said: "Building on the conclusions of the G-20 in Pittsburgh, on recent initiatives by the European Commission and the Basel Committee, we are supporting the introduction of bank resolution regimes in all [European Union] member states."
The French and German governments said they want to be able to intervene early if a bank is tottering and to wind down systemically important banks, including cross-border ones. The aim is to "impose market discipline and protect public funds," the statement said.
Joining Lagarde at a press conference after the cabinet meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Germany's levy should be compatible with other governments' plans, and that he and Lagarde plan to press partners from the euro zone and the Group of 20 industrialized and developing economies to take such action. But, Schaeuble said, Germany won't wait for a broader European plan before enacting its own levy.
"Our aim is to find a rule which provides sufficient incentives to reduce systemic risks, if possible, and which at the same time doesn't harm banks' ability to accompany the economic recovery process or the restructuring process," Schaeuble said, adding that the levy is likely to raise 1 billion to 1.2 billion euros a year.
Germany's move comes amid voter unhappiness at having to cover many of the costs of the financial crisis.
Germany and France are among a handful of countries pursuing proposals to tax large banks, with similar measures under consideration in the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants Germany's levy to set the tone for international financial regulations that could be discussed by G-20 leaders when they meet in Canada in June.