By Steve Slater
LONDON (Reuters) - More than 3,500 bankers in Europe earned 1 million euros (856.9 thousand pounds) or more last year after a big jump across the continent and in Britain, which had 12 times as many high earners as any other country.
Figures from the bloc's banking regulator on Friday showed that London-based bankers would have easily bust the European Union bonus cap rule coming into effect next year. Bonuses for the highest earners were almost four times fixed pay.
The scale of bankers' bonuses remains a hot topic among politicians and the public. Many blame high pay for the risk-taking that led to the 2008/09 financial crisis and a series of mis-selling and misconduct scandals.
The European Union is trying to curb excessive pay and has said that from 2014 bonuses for "risk-taking" staff cannot exceed annual salary, or twice that if shareholders give their approval.
The latest data from the European Banking Authority (EBA) shows that 3,529 bankers in the EU earned at least 1 million euros in 2012, up 11 percent in 2011.
They were paid 6.6 billion euros in aggregate, including 5 billion in bonuses, representing more than 10 percent of the EU bank industry's after-tax profits in 2012. These bankers represent about 0.1 percent of the 3 million people who work in banks across Europe.
Britain accounted for 2,714 of those top earners, up 11 percent on the year before, partly reflecting London's dominant position as Europe's financial centre and home to major operations for banks from the United States, Switzerland and other countries outside the EU.
The data shows that banks in Britain and France in particular need to adjust pay structures to meet new the rules because variable pay was almost four times fixed pay.
London's top earners in asset management could be hardest hit, as their bonuses are more than five times fixed pay.
At least 10,000 bankers, most of them in London, are expected to be affected by the new bonus cap. Banks such as Barclays (LSE:BARC), Deutsche Bank (GER:DBK) and HSBC (LSE:HSBA) are expected to cut bonuses and raise fixed pay to comply with the new rules.
Any employee earning more than 500,000 euros a year is likely to be affected, and potentially people whose bonus is at least 75,000 euros and 75 percent of their fixed pay. The EBA said on Friday it expects to finalise details next month.
RARE PAY GLIMPSE
The EBA figures, part of data-gathering efforts as the EU finalises its rules for the bonus cap, offer a rare glimpse into the pay of bankers across Europe.
Of the British bankers earning more than 1 million euros, 2,188 worked in investment banking, 62 were in retail banking, 198 were in asset management and 266 were in other areas.
The watchdog said that 212 bankers in Germany earned more than 1 million euros, up by a quarter from 2011.
There were 177 bankers similarly well rewarded in France, up 9 percent, and 109 in Italy, up 14 percent. There were also significant rises in most Nordic countries.
In Spain, which had to bail out its banking sector last year, the number earning at least 1 million euros fell by a fifth to 100. However, the average remuneration for those 100 was 2.2 million euros, higher than Britain and Germany.
Some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Estonia, had no million euro earners, while Poland had seven.
Ireland, which was almost bankrupted by its banking crisis, had 16 in the top bracket, down from 21 a year earlier. Cyprus had three and Greece one.
The figures include high earners from employees based in each country, rather than the domicile of the bank, so the UK figures include high earners from international lenders such as Goldman Sachs (NYS:GS) and JPMorgan (NYS:JPM).
(Editing by David Goodman and Jane Merriman)