Europe's tough new regime for banks fails first test in Portugal

Portugal’s rescue of Banco Santo Espirito has left taxpayers on the hook for large potential losses, sparing senior bondholders in the first serious test of the EU’s tougher rules for bank failures.
The controversial €4.9bn (£3.9bn) bailout over the weekend set off a relief rally on the Lisbon bourse, with bank stocks soaring. It also set off a political furore as opposition parties accused premier Pedro Passos Coelho of bending to the banking elites. “We live in a democracy, not a bankocracy. It is unacceptable for the prime minister to take money from the salaries of workers and pensions, and funnel it to a private bank,” said Catarina Martins, leader of the Left Bloc.
European officials pledged last year that taxpayers will never again face losses from a bank failure until all creditors and unsecured depositors have been wiped out first. They seem to have backed away at the first sign of trouble, opting for soft terms rather than the draconian measures imposed on Cyprus.
The EU’s new “bail-in” rules do not come into force until 2016, but it was assumed the broad principle would be followed. Portugal’s decision to protect senior bondholders is incendiary in a country already near austerity fatigue.
The rescue comes three weeks after the central bank said Espirito Santo’s problems were safely contained.