ESMA and MiCA's impact on EU financial markets - Hindustan Times
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ESMA and MiCA's impact on EU financial markets

ByHindustan Times
Oct 31, 2023 11:17 AM IST

This article is authored by Rajagopal Menon, vice president, WazirX.

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) is a pivotal institution within the European Union (EU) that aims to safeguard investors and ensure the stability of financial markets. Established to foster transparency, coordination, and harmonisation, ESMA plays a significant role in shaping the financial landscape of the EU. ESMA’s mandate is investor protection. It ensures that financial markets are transparent and fair, thereby providing consumers with the information they need to make sound investment decisions.

Crypto (REUTERS File Photo/Representational image)
Crypto (REUTERS File Photo/Representational image)

In recent times, one of its critical areas of focus has been cryptoassets, which brings us to the Markets in Cryptoassets (MiCA) regulation. MiCA aims to do this by implementing stringent disclosure requirements for cryptoassets and ensuring that crypto service providers are licenced and adhere to regulatory standards. This dual focus on transparency from both ESMA and MiCA has an aim to create a more secure investment environment.

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MiCA will take effect on December 30, 2024, making the EU the first major jurisdiction to introduce comprehensive, tailored rules for the crypto sector. The regulation draws from existing EU rules for securities trading. However, it's not a mere copy-paste of the rulebook for stocks and bonds. MiCA has been designed to adapt existing rules to fit innovative instruments in the crypto space that can be used for payments, investments, and more.

Let's do a deep dive into its highlights. Any business wishing to provide cryptocurrency services within the EU, including custody, trading, portfolio management, or advice, will need to obtain authorisation from one of the EU's 27 national financial regulators. Furthermore, companies offering crypto assets to the public must publish a white paper that is fair and clear, warning of risks without misleading potential buyers. Unlike securities prospectuses, these crypto white papers can be published even before receiving regulatory approval. The framework also contains provisions to curb market abuse and insider dealing, similar to the guardrails set up for traditional finance.

MiCA has given special attention to stablecoins. Given the rising popularity of stablecoins as a less volatile alternative to traditional cryptocurrencies, MiCA imposes additional regulatory requirements to ensure their stability and security. These requirements are above and beyond what is expected for other cryptoassets, reflecting the unique risks and opportunities presented by stablecoins. Interestingly, the legislation provides carve-outs for decentralised finance (DeFi) and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), indicating some nuance in how different kinds of cryptoassets are approached.

While the primary focus of MiCA is to mitigate the risks associated with the crypto market, it also aims to foster innovation. The crypto space is rapidly evolving, and a balanced regulatory approach is essential to ensure that innovation is not stifled. By providing a clear legal framework, MiCA aims to give businesses the confidence to invest in developing new products and services, thereby driving the European crypto market forward.

MiCA has been passed by the EU and is set to have a significant impact not just within the EU but globally. The EU is an economic powerhouse, and regulations enacted here often set a precedent for other jurisdictions.

That said, MiCA has not been without its controversies. Critics argue that the regulation could potentially stifle innovation by imposing too many restrictions. The crypto market is highly dynamic, and excessive regulation could make it difficult for startups and small businesses to compete. This is a valid concern, and one that regulators are keenly aware of. The challenge lies in finding the right balance between consumer protection and fostering innovation, a task easier said than done.

ESMA through MiCA, is aiming to create a more secure and efficient financial market within the EU. ESMA provides the overarching framework, focusing on a wide range of financial instruments and aiming to protect investors through transparency and fairness. MiCA, on the other hand, zooms in on the crypto market, providing the specifics needed to regulate this volatile and rapidly evolving field. Together, they represent a comprehensive approach to financial regulation, one that could set the standard for markets around the world.

This article is authored by Rajagopal Menon, vice president, WazirX.

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