The EU and jurisdictional competition for hedge fund regulation

Larry Ribstein —  11 December 2011

The NYT reports:

When he rejected a new European accord on Friday that would bind the continent ever closer, Prime Minister David Cameron seemingly sacrificed Britain’s place in Europe to preserve the pre-eminence of the City, London’s financial district. The question now is whether his stance will someday seem justified, even prescient.

Mr. Cameron refused to go along with the new European plan of stricter fiscal oversight and discipline hammered out in Brussels this week, in great part because of fears that the City would be strangled by regulations emanating from Brussels. * * *

But will it matter?  The article points out that:

  • Non-British banks in the UK will still be subject to EU regulation.
  • European activity might be redirected from the UK to Frankfurt.
  • Europe could prohibit its banks from dealing with UK firms that didn’t adhere to EU regulation.
  • But the UK could exit the EU, reducing the impact of EU regulation in the UK.
  • European banks would still have a powerful incentive to remain global by competing in the UK market. 
  • Even if excluded from Europe, UK banks would still compete powerfully for U.S. and Asian business.  The UK didn’t lose its edge when it stayed with the pound, and likely won’t if it opts out of EU regulation.

And of course there’s the question whether UK hedge funds and other financial institutions will be better global competitors without being saddled by more intrusive European regulation.

Cameron’s move is a reminder that the EU has a double edge:  it promotes competition within the EU, but erects a regulatory cartel for the EU against the rest of the world.  With or without the cartel, it’s still a global economy, governed by the powerful forces of jurisdictional competition.  Federal cartels can slow down that completion but not stop it.

It’s a lesson worth remembering for U.S. securities regulators.

Larry Ribstein

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Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law