2 My response to this criticism is threefold. To my mind, criticism reflects a notion of lender-of-last-resort operations that is largely outdated; it underestimates the Eurosystem's capacity to act; and, finally, it represents too mechanistic a view of how a crisis is, and should be, managed in practice.
3 In my view, we should move as rapidly as possible to a model in which the present division of the geographical and functional jurisdiction between monetary policy and banking supervision plays no significant role. I do not mean necessarily a single authority or a single set of prudential rules. Rather I mean that the system of national supervisors needs to operate as effectively as a single authority when needed. While the causes of banking problems are often local or national, propagation of problems may be area-wide. The banking industry is much more of a system than other financial institutions.
A less unlikely case is a rapid outflow of uninsured interbank liabilities. However, since interbank counterparties are much better informed than depositors, this event would typically require the market to have a strong suspicion that the bank is actually insolvent. If such a suspicion were to be unfounded and not generalized, width and depth of today's interbank market is such that other institutions would probably replace (possibly with the encouragement of the public authorities as described above) of those which withdraw their funds. It should be noted, in this respect, that the emergence of the single euro money market lowers banks' liquidity risk, because the number of possible sources of funds is now considerably larger than in the past.
Nowadays and in our industrial economies, runs may occur mainly in textbooks. They have little relevance in reality because, since Bagehot, many antidotes have been adopted: deposit insurance, regulation of capital adequacy and large exposures, improved licensing and supervisory standards all contribute to the preservation of depositors' confidence and minimize the threat of a contagion from insolvent to solvent institutions.
2 The notion of a central bank's lender-of-last-resort function dates back more than 120 years, to the time of Bagehot. This notion refers to emergency lending to institutions that, although solvent, suffer a rapid liquidity outflow due to a sudden collapse in depositors' confidence, i.e. a classic bank run. A bank could be exposed to depositors' panic even if solvent because of the limited amount of bank liquidity and an information asymmetry between the depositors and the bank concerning the quality of bank's assets that do not have a secondary market value.
In these circumstances the various national arrangements would continue to apply, including those concerning the access of central banks to supervisors' confidential information. As is well known, such arrangements differ somewhat from country to country.
A clear reassurance about the capacity to act when really needed should be sufficient for the markets. Indeed, it may even be advisable not to spell out beforehand the procedural and practical details of emergency actions. As Gerry Corrigan once put it, maintaining "constructive ambiguity" in these matters may help to reduce the moral hazard associated with a safety net. I know of no central bank law within which the lender-of-last-resort function is explicitly defined.
The introduction of the euro leaves crisis management actions involving taxpayers' money practically unaffected. The option of injecting equity or other funds remains available for the Member States, since these operations are not forbidden by the Treaty. Nevertheless, European Commission will be directly involved in scrutinizing and authorizing such actions, since any state aid must be compatible with the Community's competition legislation. This happened, for example, in the cases of Banco di Napoli and Crydit.
In the euro area, national supervisors and central banks will continue to be the key actors in the pursuit of market-based solutions to crises. The Eurosystem, or the Banking Supervision Committee, would become naturally involved whenever the relevance of the crisis required it.
The handling of solvency crises is not within the competence of the national central banks nor that of the ECB, although national central banks are likely to be consulted, as they have been in the past.