5 Sep 2009

France wants bankers' bonuses capped; US and Britain don't

8:48 pm on 5 September 2009

Divisions are opening up between the world's most powerful finance ministers about how best to prevent banks from awarding excessive bonuses.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde has led the calls for action, declaring that there should be an "onslaught on bonuses", with absolutely no going back to the old rules on bankers' pay.

"Public opinion is horrified by the amount of compensation paid to traders," she says.

Both France and Germany want a cap on bonuses and an end to guaranteed awards but the United States and Britain, keen to protect the status of Wall Street and the City of London as the world's leading financial centres, are opposed to the idea of a simple cap.

British finance minister Alistair Darling says it's "unenforceable" because top bankers would simply find other ways to reward themselves.

'The City cannot be above the rules'

Ms Lagarde is unimpressed by that, saying Britain's European partners are not prepared to let it off the hook. "As far as governments are concerned, their responsibility is not to the City (of London), it is to the public," she says. "The City cannot be above the rules."

The finance ministers from the Group of 20 are meeting in London to prepare the ground for a G20 leaders' summit in Pittsburgh on 24 September.

In a joint letter, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have urged the G20 nations to adopt binding rules to regulate bank behaviour.

The three leaders say banks cannot go on as if the crisis never happened.