Europe on Tuesday sets out long-awaited proposals to regulate credit rating agencies whose assessments are considered to have played a key role in the sovereign debt crisis.
Days after an erroneous downgrade of France, EU markets commissioner Michel Barnier -- a former French foreign minister -- will propose suspending the credit rating of countries receiving international bailouts.
Barnier is to give a press conference on his plans, the latest in a long series of controls imposed on markets since the 2008 financial crisis, at about 3:00 pm (1400 GMT).
Greece, Ireland and Portugal all suffered downgrades that accelerated sharp yield rises on bond markets over the past two years, with Spain and Italy -- currently throwing open its books to international auditors -- also coming under pressure.
France, which economists say is struggling to hold its Triple-A rating alongside tight-ship eurozone economies Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Luxembourg, recently announced deep budget cuts in a bid to retain its gold-plated status.
If the proposal is adopted, ratings agencies regulated by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), "won't have the right, if the ESMA decides, to rate certain countries for a certain time that are receiving an international support programme from the IMF or European Union," Barnier said Monday.
Barnier's plans would also allow the world's biggest border-free market to temporarily ban ratings changes if EU regulators fear market instability.
Moody's, Stadard and Poor's and Fitch are the best known agencies. They and others have long been criticised for adding fuel to the fire by lowering ratings -- in other words, raising investor risk assessments -- when markets were already tense.
Many also blame them for having helped create the 2008 global financial crisis by failing to properly evaluate the risk of certain investments before the bubble burst.
Standard and Poor's last week accidentally notified clients of a downgrade for France, a mistake the company blamed on a technical error.
The proposals are to cover four areas -- reducing reliance on ratings, increasing competition, increasing transparency in sovereign debt ratings, and toughening liability in case of misconduct.
ESMA, which has registered a couple of dozen operators to date, can withdraw an agency's licence, order criminal action or slap fines amounting to up to 20 percent of annual takings.
Barnier wants to toughen sanctions "creating a European framework for civil liability in the case of serious misconduct or gross negligence."