EU banks closed 5,500 branches in 2012

More than 5,500 bank branches were shut down last year across the EU, as the bloc’s retail banks continue to feel the pain from the eurozone crisis.

The data, published by the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank over the weekend, shows that more than 20,000 high street bank branches closed between 2008 and 2012, equivalent to around 9 percent. At the start of 2013, there were 218,687 branches in the EU, equivalent to one for every 2,300 people.

Unsurprisingly, the EU’s bailout countries were worst hit.

Greece saw more than 5 percent of its bank outlets close in 2012, with a series of local bank mergers leading to 219 branch closures.

Meanwhile, Spain, whose banks have had access to €60 billion in emergency loans after suffering heavy losses from the collapse of the country’s property market, shed 1,963 branches.

That said, several EU countries bucked the trend, with Poland and the Czech republic among those to see an increase to their bank branch numbers.

Despite economic forecasts indicating that the worst of the recession is now over, the bank network is set to shrink further in 2013.

Cyprus is expected to see deep cuts to its banking sector as part of its €17 billion bailout package agreed in June. The Mediterranean island has been forced to liquidate Laiki bank, its second largest bank, leaving rival Bank of Cyprus to take over 312 Laiki branches.

The bloc’s shrinking bank network also threatens to reduce access to basic bank services for thousands of Europeans, particularly those in the countries most badly hit by the eurozone crisis.

For its part, the European Commission estimates that 58 million Europeans aged over 15 do not have a basic bank account, of which 2.5 million have been denied access to an account.

In May, the EU executive tabled legislation aimed at giving all EU citizens the right to basic bank services regardless of their wealth.

The legislation, which is now subject to the approval of MEPs and ministers, would also make it easier for customers to switch their accounts between different banks, as part of a bid to increase competition on the high street.

Πηγή: EUObserver