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Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) is a set of regulations in the European Union that governs the issuance and provision of services pertaining to cryptocurrencies, stablecoins, and related assets. It is a landmark regulation in that it is the first such legislation worldwide, and when it takes effect in the coming years it could have a significant impact on the crypto space in Europe.
Of course, because cryptocurrencies are not confined to central authorities and spaces like traditional currencies, MiCA will also affect crypto investors, blockchain proponents, Decentralized Finance (DeFi) participants, and many others all around the world. Read on for a brief overview of what MiCA is, how and why it developed, and the ways it might impact your participation in the cryptocurrency industry.
Timeline of MiCA
Before exploring the ins and outs of MiCA more thoroughly, it will be helpful to have a basic timeline. MiCA was proposed in 2020 as a landmark licensing law of the European Commission (EC), the executive arm of the EU, with the goal of maintaining financial stability, protecting crypto investors, and promoting development in the crypto asset space.
The EC’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee voted to approve the regulation on Oct. 10, 2022. This was followed by the European Parliament’s vote in favor of the legislation on April 20, 2023. MiCA was then ratified by the Economic and Financial Affairs Council of the EU on May 16, 2023. It was then published in the Official Journal of the European Union on June 9, 2023. The Act officially entered into force 20 days after this publication.
With all of the procedural hurdles cleared, MiCA will begin to take effect in stages through the end of 2024 or early 2025. By June of 2024, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and related organizations will prepare draft Delegated Acts, while certain aspects of MiCA regulation begin application. Additional components of MiCA will apply through the end of 2024, roughly.
Objectives of MiCA
MiCA is a wide-ranging legal framework regulating crypto assets across the European Union, which accounts for about a quarter of all crypto activity globally by some estimates. The legislation has a few key objectives:
- Create an international and comprehensive framework of regulations to replace ad hoc or individual regulations found already in some EU nations.
- Set clear rules for token issuers and crypto asset service providers.
- Establish a new framework for crypto asset regulation where it is not already covered by existing financial legislation.
Who and What Does MiCA Apply To?
The world of cryptocurrency is extremely broad, and MiCA does not target the entirety of the crypto ecosystem. The act applies to “natural and legal persons and certain other undertakings that are engaged in the issuance, offer to the public and admission to trading of crypto-assets or that provide services related to crypto-assets” in the EU.
Notably, MiCA does not apply to the European Central Bank, the central banks of EU member states, public international organizations, and individuals providing crypto-related services exclusively for parent companies or subsidiaries.
Crypto-assets in this case are considered to be “digital representations of value or of rights that have the potential to bring significant benefits to market participants, including retail holders of crypto-assets.”
Beyond this definition, MiCA also divides the term “crypto-assets” into three broad categories according to risk level for participants, with differing requirements for each category. Categories are determined by whether the crypto-assets “seek to stabilize their value by reference to other assets.” The categories are:
- E-money Tokens: These assets seek to stabilize value by referencing a single official currency, and in this way resemble electronic money. They are, in a sense, surrogates for fiat currencies. This category includes most fiat-backed stablecoins.
- Asset-referenced Tokens: These tokens attempt to stabilize value by referencing either a basket of currencies or other assets. This includes tokens backed by commodities like gold, such as Digix (DGX).
- Other Tokens: The final category includes all other tokens, including utility tokens and many other types.
A few exceptions to the above categories include crypto-assets that are already regulated by existing legislation, and a limited set of requirements for projects offered to fewer than 150 EU residents or with a total value under €1 million over a 12-month period.
What Are MiCA’s New Rules?
MiCA lays out a wide-ranging set of standards and rules for the crypto industry. Stablecoins are a significant focus and will need to meet stricter standards under MiCA. All EU-based crypto businesses must meet a larger list of disclosure requirements and must also implement data security and anti-money laundering protocols, among other things.
Because MiCA is written broadly to cover crypto-asset service providers (CASPs), including businesses and individuals that provide services on a professional basis related to cryptocurrencies, these rules apply to participants including exchanges, trading platforms, portfolio managers, transfer service and custody providers, and traders.
Each of these groups must, under MiCA, meet strict requirements aiming to protect consumer funds. They will also become liable in a situation in which they lose investor assets and must maintain security protocols as well as a minimum account of their own funds.
A benefit of MiCA’s regulatory status across the EU is that a CASP who secures a license in one EU member state will be able to immediately offer services across the entirety of the union.
MiCA’s new rules also include market abuse protections to ensure that the crypto space (at least in the EU) is free of manipulation, insider trading, and similar problems. This aspect of the regulation, following from traditional finance regulation, seeks to protect against market melt-downs and the high-risk, “wild west” environment endemic in the crypto space previously.
NFTs, Whitepapers, and Stablecoins
Notably, MiCA excludes some new paradigms in the crypto space, including DeFi and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Security tokens are another aspect of the crypto world not covered by MiCA. One reason for some of these exclusions is that certain parts of the crypto space are already regulated. In other cases, regulators may need to further analyze the complexities of emerging systems in order to craft suitable legislation. DeFi apps are not included within MiCA coverage because they operate without intermediaries.
NFTs are outside of the scope of MiCA because they are non-fungible. MiCA is specifically concerned with assets that are fungible. Still, the text of the legislation does not ignore NFTs entirely. The fractional parts of an NFT, for instance, are not to be considered non-fungible. Likewise, crypto-assets issued as NFTs in a large series or collection “should be considered as an indicator of their fungibility.” This wording potentially leaves the door open for EU authorities to apply regulation to certain NFTs in the future.
Under MiCA, any issuer of a crypto-asset must produce a white paper to inform potential investors. These white papers must be issued ahead of the public offering of the asset and must include certain information including background on the issuer, a detailed breakdown of the project to be carried out with capital raised, rights and obligations for investors, and so on.
An interesting aspect of MiCA’s white paper rules as it pertains to multiple categories of crypto-assets described above is that asset-referenced tokens receive stricter guidelines. Issuers of these tokens must have their white papers approved by authorities in their chosen country of issuance before publishing them.
A major goal of MiCA is to make stablecoins more stable for investors. The regulation specifies that investors should be able to redeem either e-money tokens or asset-referenced tokens at any time. Thus, issuers of stablecoins falling in either of these categories must have reserves to match their liabilities, and those reserves must be protected. Asset-referenced token issuers must have registered offices within the EU and must generally base their tokens on European currencies. Algorithmic stablecoins will be banned entirely.
What Does MiCA Mean for an Investor?
In short, MiCA means little will change for the crypto investor in terms of procedure. White papers may be more common and may include additional information, for example, but otherwise the protocols for trading and holding assets will be largely unchanged.
However, MiCA aims to make consumers in the crypto space better protected in a variety of ways which may not immediately be obvious. The regulation enhances market transparency, it attempts to ensure that major players may not manipulate the market to create excessive risk for others, and it works to build up protection for assets under custody. MiCA seeks to enhance and bring up to par security measures across the industry. It also aims to mitigate the negative environmental impact of cryptocurrencies.
- Markets in Crypto-Assets, or MiCA, is a regulation framework in the EU governing a host of cryptocurrency policies.
- MiCA has passed through various stages of enactment among EU legislators and will take effect in the months and years to come.
- MiCA is a wide-ranging set of rules and regulations aiming to replace ad hoc, individualized regulations previously existing across different EU states, to set clear rules for token issuers and other participants, and to create regulation for areas not previously regulated.
- MiCA will govern categories of crypto-assets including e-money tokens (tokens referencing a single official currency), asset-referenced tokens (those referencing a basket of currencies, commodity, or other asset), and other tokens as well. Each category will have different regulatory requirements.
- MiCA’s rules require crypto-asset service providers to adhere to common standards regarding security, anti-money laundering protections, and a host of other protocols.
- MiCA does not cover most NFTs (except fractionalized NFTs and NFTs released as collections). Similarly, it does not cover DeFi apps that exist without an intermediary.
- Crypto-asset issuers must provide white papers under MiCA, and in some cases these white papers must be approved before a token is issued to the public.
- Algorithmic stablecoins are banned entirely under MiCA, and other stablecoins face stricter requirements, including the need to have reserves to match liabilities.