The European Commission unveiled plans Wednesday to closely regulate key financial benchmarks used globally to price loans after a rate-rigging scandal blew the lid off the clubby world of banking.
"Today's proposals will ensure for the first time that all benchmark providers have to be authorised and supervised; they will enhance transparency and tackle conflicts of interest," EU Financial Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said in a statement.
The measures cover not only the scandal-hit Libor, the flagship London reference rate used all over the world to set the rate banks, businesses and individuals pay to borrow money, but also "a broad variety" of benchmarks used in commodity, energy and derivatives markets.
Crucially, the plans brings some measure of central supervision to a system that until now was largely run and supervised by the banks themselves.
The most used benchmarks, Libor and its eurozone equivalent Euribor, will be overseen by national administrators working in tandem with the Paris-based European Securities and Markets Authority.
"Benchmarks are at the heart of the financial system: they are critical for our markets as well as the mortgages and savings of millions of our citizens, yet until now they have been largely unregulated and unsupervised," Barnier said.
Libor is calculated daily, using trade quotes and estimates from banks of their own cost of borrowing on the interbank market. The rate affects the pricing of more than $300-trillion of contracts across the world, according to regulators.
But the insular world of Libor imploded in 2012, undermined by revelations that major banks, among them Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS, had manipulated Libor to their advantage, especially during the turmoil and aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.
"Certain banks lied on their rates and that is why you have heard me for the past three and a half years evoke the need to bring morals and ethics back into banking," Barnier said at a news conference.
Some of these manipulations were made before the financial crisis, he added, "so that bankers could make more money," but once crisis hit, they served to make their banks appear stronger than they were.
For their misdeeds, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS paid huge fines to British and US authorities, but Barnier said he believed some bankers "should have gone to prison".
Under his plans, which have to be approved by the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament, benchmark rates "will be subject to prior authorisation and on-going supervision at national and European level."
They would also require that the information used to calculate a benchmark was indeed accurate, reflecting the true cost of money in the market.
Missing from the proposals was an idea floated earlier this year that the fixing of Libor would be moved to Paris for oversight by ESMA.
But Britain balked at this plan and in July announced that NYSE Euronext, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, would take over management of Libor out of London early next year.
And jealous to preserve its standing in the global financial markets, Britain will also be relieved that national oversight is spared.
London believes its own reforms of the Libor have cleaned up the system.