Important Wall Street Journal article reporting that the ECB has changed its position on whether senior unsecured bondholders in insolvent banks can be bailed in:
The ECB’s new stance can also be explained by the different scenarios, including the existence of a bank-restructuring framework for Spain that didn’t exist for Ireland, and the fact that the Irish government, unlike Spain’s, guaranteed much of its banks’ debts.
But a chief reason [finance] ministers decided not to make more privileged bondholders take losses was the Irish precedent, two people said. Dublin has had to pump more than €60 billion, equivalent to around 40% of its annual gross domestic product, into several struggling lenders, forcing it to request a €67.5 billion bailout from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund in 2010.
Forcing senior creditors to take losses in Spain would have raised more questions in Ireland about why taxpayers were forced by the EU to take on the huge burden of repaying high-ranked bondholders.
So: Ireland’s critical error was to protect legacy bondholders who were completely stuck (the money was long since lent), but now that Ireland made that error, we can’t let Spain come up with a better policy because then there would be questions about Ireland.