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European Market Watchdog Flags Significant Risks in DeFi Ecosystem

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Oct 13, 2023 at 08:46 am

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), tasked with regulatory oversight in accordance with the MiCA crypto legislation, expresses concerns over potential new forms of market manipulation in the absence of a central counterparty.

ESMA, an EU body responsible for establishing regulations under the Markets in Crypto Assets Regulation (MiCA), has issued a warning regarding the "serious risks" to investors posed by decentralized finance (DeFi). This cautionary stance is maintained despite the fact that DeFi technology is still in its early stages.

The report, generated by the Paris-based agency, underscores that while investor exposure to DeFi is currently limited, there are substantial risks to investor protection. These risks stem from the highly speculative nature of many DeFi arrangements, along with significant operational and security vulnerabilities. Additionally, the absence of a clearly defined responsible party is a notable concern. ESMA has committed to providing annual reports on this rapidly evolving sector.

While DeFi theoretically reduces the risk of counterparties defaulting, the report emphasizes the amplified volatility in crypto markets. Furthermore, the anonymity it affords can facilitate dubious practices like wash trading, an activity where sales volumes are artificially inflated to manipulate market conditions.

Recent proposals from ESMA encompass a range of new rules for crypto asset service providers under MiCA, including the inclusion of environmental disclosures in issuers' white papers. Another report highlights the potentially groundbreaking nature of the smart contracts employed in DeFi. It acknowledges that these contracts span from financially motivated Ponzi schemes to advanced operational memory management.

ESMA is not alone in grappling with how to regulate DeFi projects. The International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) has also suggested treating them within the framework of conventional finance. In response to a consultation by the French financial regulator AMF, the EU Crypto Initiative has advocated for a customized approach to DeFi. They argue that programmers should not be held legally liable solely based on the potential misuse of their code.

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