British Block Euro. Hedge Fund Rules

Mar 16 2010 | 1:59pm ET

The U.K. may be “very isolated” from its European Union cohorts in continuing to fight against the bloc’s proposed alternative investment rules, but for the time being it has carried the day.

Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, postponed a vote of the Union’s finance ministers on the directive, which would impose strict new reporting and custody requirements on hedge funds and private equity firms, and could freeze out foreign hedge funds.  Elena Salgado, the country’s own finance minister, said she’ll try to broker “as many concessions as possible” over the next few months before to win over all 27 members of the EU by May or June, when the Spanish presidency ends.

“The outcome today is good,” Alistair Darling, the British chancellor of the exchequer, said. “We now have an opportunity to make sure we have regulation that runs effectively. What we need to do it to get a deal that makes the system stronger.”

Darling warned that he would fight to protect London’s status as “Europe’s main financial center.” The U.K. is home to some the overwhelming majority of European hedge funds, and the British government fears an exodus from London to Switzerland, the U.S. and other jurisdictions if the European rules come into effect.

The delay appears to be the handiwork of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown himself. Brown, facing an election he is expected to lose in May, warned his Spanish counterpart, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, that the U.K. would not accept a compromise proposal that Spain planned to float at today’s meeting.

For his part, Darling urged that hedge fund regulation should be an international issue, worked out at next month’s G-20 meeting. “We want to reach agreement on the directive, but more detailed work is needed in the EU and G-20 to make sure we have a shared global approach,” he said.

But Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal markets commissioner and the recipient of a recent letter from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warning that the EU proposals were protectionist, said he would not be bullied “from Paris or London and certainly not from Washington.”


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