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Europe: Drop some financial system crutches

/ Source: The Associated Press

Although it is too early to say the crisis is over, it is time to withdraw some of the policy measures that supported the financial system through the credit crunch, the European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said Friday.

In a speech at the European Banking Congress in Frankfurt, Trichet likened the financial system to a recovering patient and said it was time to pull back the medicine "if the patient is to get back on its own feet."

He said the ECB would soon be pulling some of its liquidity-providing "extraordinary measures" to ensure they don't cause an inflation threat. The ECB is expected to provide details on how the programs will be scaled back at its Dec. 3 meeting.

He said the financial system had to prove that it could work without the ECB's help, and that policy makers should be wary of repeating the mistakes of the past, when very cheap credit helped create dangerous imbalances and asset bubbles.

"It is surely too early to say the crisis is over," Trichet said, but it is time to look to the future and learn from the past.

Trichet called on banks to make more credit available and to bulk up their reserves with their quarterly profits if necessary. Bonuses, he said, also need to be kept in check.

The chief of the central bank for the 330 million citizens across the 16 countries that share the euro said taxpayers wouldn't accept another round of bailouts.

"The financial sector can't forget that it's supposed to serve the real economy, and not the other way around."

At the same conference, Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that while the worst had passed for the German economy in 2009, the downturn and risks lingered.

Schaeuble noted recent stock market gains, increased finance activity and improvements in banks' earnings were encouraging, but said it wasn't time to let the guard down.

"The financial system, as in the past, is still fragile. The insecurity of financial market participants is still high and the problems of the banking sector still aren't solved.

"As a realist, one has to assume that next year, here in Germany, banks will see more charges to their balance sheets because of the effects of rising corporate insolvencies and unemployment," Schaeuble said.