The Crème de la Crème of the European hedge funds and private equity industry met at a conference organised by the Commission in Brussels at the end of last week in order to combine forces against a regulation of their industries.
The two-day conference on 26th and 27th February in Brussels was part of the public consultation for the regulation of hedge funds, organised by the European Commission, in which AK participated with a Position Paper. To start the conference, the Irish Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who is in charge of this subject, spoke in front of representatives of the industry, who formed the majority of the audience. In contrast to earlier speeches, where he managed on occasions to make the strong financial lobbies responsible for his success during the last 5 years in preventing all attempts to regulate hedge funds and private equity companies; this time he was careful not to provoke the industry too much. The hedge funds had not triggered the crisis, said McCreevy; nevertheless the heads of state and government had decided that in future all players in the financial market had to be regulated.

The next speaker, the leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, was much bolder. After all, he himself had been the parliamentary rapporteur to an EP Report on Hedge funds and Private Equity, in which he had vehemently and long before the start of the financial crisis demanded a regulation of the industry. Rasmussen is also one of the fiercest critics of McCreevy, who, in the opinion of many, personifies the Commission’s ideology of deregulation. “Let's not fool ourselves; the times of self-regulation are over”, said Rasmussen in reference to the longstanding strategy of the financial industry to take the wind out of the sails of politics by self-imposed toothless codes of conduct.

The remaining conference radiated the impression of an air of bunker mentality. One “expert panel” after the other emphasized the innocence of the industry with respect to the financial crisis and the efficiency of the voluntary code of conduct. It fell once again to a politician, this time the former French Minister for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet, to bring the industrial representatives back to earth. In a brilliant speech, Jouyet, today head of the French financial market authority, explained that the systemic risks originate from hedge funds and clearly came out in favour for regulating the industry.

The question remains for many participants of the conference, what the criteria are according to which the European Commission organises such hearings, which should actually serve the purpose of giving equal say to all social groups. One can hardly call it balanced if just 2 labour representatives are among 30 discussion participants.