Europe’s race is on to provide Brexit substitute for London’s City

Berlin – After the initial drama, several European capitals have come to appreciate the fact that the pending divorce between Britain and the EU is an opportunity to take on the financial role that has so far been performed by London’s City.

Triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union is seen as a point of no return that will inevitably strip London of its role as Europe’s financial capital.

Banks legally need to have their offices in an EU country in order to be able to provide services within the bloc, and there are many candidates to provide such a seat once London cannot do it. As if they were bidding to host the Olympics, Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris, Milan and Madrid are busy listing the virtues that may give them an edge over their rivals.

Frankfurt appears to be ahead in the race. It already hosts the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) and of several major supervisory bodies, including the European Insurance Authority.

Frankfurt and Dublin have good chances

The ECB’ is not the only magnet. There are a large number of qualified professionals, good infrastructure, the availability of business real estate at competitive prices and the fact that Frankfurt is in Germany, the European Union’s largest economy.

Frankfurt already enjoys an international scene thanks to a dense network of financial institutions. By the end of 2015, almost 200 banks, 80 per cent of them not German, had offices in Frankfurt. The banking industry employs 62,500 people in this western German city.

Dublin also has good chances. It is no secret that many US financial corporations favour the Irish capital for language reasons. Low interest rates and a legal system that is very similar to Britain’s are further assets.

Experts note that, following Brexit, British bank Barclays plans to turn its Dublin subsidiary into its main office in the EU. Citigroup also intends to move its European private banking headquarters to Dublin, while their rivals at Wells Fargo already manage their large business from the Irish capital.

Italy is billing Milan as a worthy candidate to replace London

In the hope of not being left behind, Paris, and especially its financial district at La Defense, have long been publicizing their appeal to bankers looking for a new European base.

The city on the Seine is planning to build seven new skyscrapers that might contribute to overcoming a shortage of available office space. Local authorities have hinted that they plan to extend current fiscal benefits for foreign employees.

The French capital, which holds the headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is also hoping to replace London as the seat of the European Banking Authority (EBA).

Paris has one major weakness, however, as Didier Le Menestrel, head of the investment management firm La Financiere de l’Echiquier, told the French financial daily Les Echos.

“The payroll tax system, and the tax system in general, are an extraordinarily strong brake when it comes to transferring the London market to the Paris market,” Le Menestrel said.

Italy is billing Milan as a worthy candidate to replace London. The capital of the Lombardy region, which holds the Italian stock exchange, highlights its infrastructure and its human capital as major assets.

Madrid is also keen to host Europe’s post-Brexit City

Milan is also home to the headquarters of some of Italy’s most important firms. However, the southern European country is not very attractive for foreign investors, and its banking sector remains a burden for the Italian economy.

Although it is not one of the major candidates, Madrid is also keen to host Europe’s new, post-Brexit City. The Spanish capital has some advantages, including a competitive real estate market, low taxes, good infrastructure, strategic ties to Latin America and North Africa, qualified professionals and pleasant weather.

But there are also several drawbacks, including the language and the city’s lack of relevance as a financial centre when compared to other options. Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos has admitted that the country “has problems to attract investment given its assessment by rating agencies, which is currently at BB+”.

Four years ago, Spain’s banks needed to be bailed out by Brussels. However, the country is also the home of two major financial institutions, Santander and BBVA, and it is trying to lure large US banks that are currently based in London, like Goldman Sachs, Citi, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

By Maria Prieto, Ana Lazaro Verde and Stefania Fumo