Recent years have witnessed a change in focus from considerations of factors which could impede competition, for example over-regulation, to the need to strike a balance between over-regulation and insufficient regulation – in order to provide the right level of safety for consumers (such that they are protected from risky investments). A driving force behind the need for deregulation over the past two decades has been the objective and desire to foster competition. Re-regulation thereafter assumed centre stage in some jurisdictions in response to the need to manage cross sector services' risks more efficiently. Rescue cases involving guarantees (contrasted with restructuring cases) during the recent Financial Crisis, have illustrated the prominent position which the goal of promoting financial stability has assumed over that of the prevention or limitation of possible distortions of competition which may arise when granting State aid. The importance attached to maintaining and promoting financial stability - as well as the need to facilitate rescue and restructuring measures aimed at preventing systemically relevant financial institutions from failure, demonstrate how far authorities are willing to overlook certain competition policies. However increased government and central bank intervention also simultaneously trigger the usual concerns – which include moral hazard and the danger of serving as long term substitutes for market discipline. An interesting observation derives from the relationship between State aid grants, competition, and the potential to induce higher risk taking levels. Whilst the need to promote and maintain financial stability is paramount, safeguards need to be implemented and enforced to ensure that measures geared towards the aim of sustaining system stability (measures such as lender of last resort arrangements and State rescues) do not unduly distort competition as well as induce higher risk taking levels. This paper will draw attention to safeguards which have been provided by the Commission where approval is considered for the grant of State aid to financial institutions whose problems are attributable to inefficiencies, poor asset liability management or risky strategies. Whether the distinction drawn by the Commission – with regards to the preferential grant of recapitalisation packages to fundamentally sound banks (which require less restructuring measures)is justified, will also be considered. How far central banks and governments should intervene and how far distortions of competition should be permitted ultimately depends on how systemically relevant a financial institution is.
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