x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

EU commissioner's rallying cry to smash big three

Calls have risen for a European credit-rating agency after several euro-zone economies had their ratings downgraded.

Calls have increased for the creation of a European credit-rating agency after several debt-laden euro-zone economies had their ratings downgraded to "junk" status.

The big three of Standard & Poor's Ratings Service (S&P), Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have been coming under fire from EU leaders in recent weeks. Officials claim the trio's actions have been aggravating the debt crisis and need to have their dominance curtailed.

Among the darkest words came from Viviane Reding, an EU commissioner, who labelled the big three a "cartel" that needed to be "smashed up" to stop them trying to determine the future of the euro zone. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, last week added her voice to calls for a European credit-rating agency.

"It is important in the medium term that Europe also has a ratings agency," she said in an interview with the public broadcaster ARD.

Moody's and S&P are US owned. Fitch is majority-owned by a French company.

Among the main bones of contention for officials has been the timing of the debt downgrades as leaders try to hammer out a way to contain the sovereign debt crisis. Ratings can help determine prices and interest rates in the bond markets.

S&P this month warned that Greece would be found to be in a form of default on its sovereign debt if its private creditors participated in a fresh EU bailout. Last week Fitch severely downgraded Greece's credit status. It follows Moody's earlier slashing the debts of Portugal and Ireland to junk status.

"We were surprised that the agencies would downgrade a country without any warning," Michel Barnier, the commissioner in charge of the EU's single market, said of Moody's actions. "You don't rate a country the same way you rate a company or a product. That's an issue. We're examining that issue."

Tough measures would be announced in November designed to check the influence of the agencies, he said.

tarnold@thenational.ae