Directors will not be able to pay themselves large bonuses as long as any of the state aid they received remains outstanding. And non- executive directors will be banned from receiving share or share options as part of their remuneration.
The measure was introduced by John Crombez, the financial expert of the Flemish socialist party, and followed news of a return to the open-handed bonus culture by some foreign banks (see below). The Flemish government would use its presence on an offending bank's board to call a shareholder meeting to vote down the bonuses.
The new rules, however, have largely symbolic value. The Flemish government was involved in the bail-out of three institutions: KBC, Dexia and insurer Ethias. The new rule passed last week is thought to have come too late to apply to Dexia, whose bonuses were apparently set down on paper the week before. The government has in any case no representative on Dexia's board. KBC, meanwhile, had paid out no bonus to directors in 2008 and 2009, although this year has seen a turnaround, and the bank intends to pay a dividend to shareholders for the first time since the crisis.
The federal parliament is expected to agree to a similar measure, introduced by Crombez's colleague Bruno Tuybens. Finance minister Didier Reynders warned he might use "fiscal instruments" to chastise any bank that went too far in paying out bonuses. The bonuses themselves are currently taxed at 70%, but Reynders might consider punitive taxes on the earnings of the banks involved.
The question of bonuses continues to make headlines:
The CEO of Ageas, the successor to Fortis, not only missed out on a long-term bonus of up to €225,000, he also did not receive an increase of €100,000 (on a basic salary of €500,000) written into his contract, as a result of poor results;
Barclay's CEO Bob Diamond only makes €290,000 a year, but for 2010 he can look forward to a bonus of €7.6 million. The bonus might have been as high as €11 million, but the bank had promised the government to exercise restraint;
The director-general of Swiss bank UBS, on the other hand, has turned down his 2010 bonus after poor performance results. He also declined to take a bonus in 2009, his first year in the job;
ABN Amro, this year showing a loss of €414 million, will pay out no bonuses to chairman Gerrit Zalm or other board members;
The board of directors of ING has decided not to take bonuses or salary increases this year, after public outrage at the numbers involved. CEO Jan Hommen was to have received a bonus of €1.25 million on top of his salary of €1.35 million. The members of the board, meanwhile, were to receive a pay increase of 2%. ING had received €5 billion in support from the state at the time of the banking crisis, of which half still has to be paid back.