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Regulating Crypto Assets: European Central Bank’s Plan

The European Central Bank (ECB) on Wednesday laid out its strategy for coordinating the legal framework governing crypto-related activities and services throughout the EU.

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The regulator said it is the ECB’s responsibility to “guarantee they do so safely and soundly” as banks are increasingly debating whether to provide cryptocurrency products and services.

In describing its strong collaboration with national regulators “to guarantee a consistent approach and high standards across countries,” the ECB provided the following details:

There is currently no harmonized regulatory framework governing crypto-asset activities and services in the EU.

“This will change with the finalization of several regulatory initiatives at [the] European and international level,” the ECB detailed, mentioning the markets in crypto-assets (MiCA) proposal to regulate the crypto sector in the EU. Internationally, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision plans to issue its rules on the prudential treatment of crypto exposures for banks.

The ECB pointed out that the regulatory frameworks for crypto “diverge quite extensively” between EU countries. For example, certain crypto activities are subject to a banking license requirement in Germany. Several banks have requested authorization to conduct crypto activities in the European country, the ECB said, adding:

It is in this context that the ECB is taking steps to harmonize the assessment of licensing requests.

The ECB also emphasized that it is working on assessing the risks posed by crypto assets, stating:

Crypto assets put the spotlight on certain types of risk, starting with operational and cyber risks, and the ECB is also working to assess these.

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In addition, “internal governance arrangements and processes need to take account of the crypto-asset AML/CFT [anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism] risk profile of the institution,” the European regulator stressed.

ECB President Christine Lagarde said in June that “crypto assets and decentralized finance (defi) have the potential to pose real risks to financial stability.” She added: “This would be particularly the case if the rapid growth of crypto-asset markets and services continue … and the interconnectedness with both the traditional financial sector and the broader economy is intensified.”

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