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European regulators debate the market abuse implications of MEV in blockchain

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has highlighted the potential misuse of Maximum Extractable Value (MEV) within blockchain transactions. ESMA’s recent regulatory suggestions under the MiCA framework have pinpointed MEV, a method cryptocurrency miners employ to enhance their profits, as a possible market abuse.

Breaking down MEV in blockchain

MEV is a concept in blockchain that you can understand more easily by looking at the role of miners and validators. Think of these roles as the people who help to move transactions along in the blockchain. When you take any action on the blockchain, you pay a fee, called a gas fee, for their service.

Think of each block as a container with limited space for transactions. Usually, those who make the blocks choose the transactions that offer the highest fees, which boosts their earnings. If you’re a user and you want your transaction processed faster, you can choose to pay a higher fee.

It’s important to understand that those who generate blocks have complete control over the transactions they want to add to the next block. Since all the transactions waiting to be processed are public knowledge, these block creators can select the most profitable transactions from many options.

In the MEV world, it’s not just validators and miners who contribute. Ethereum.org tells us that many others, especially a group known as “searchers,” also contribute.

Searchers use complex formulas to spot chances for MEV and then use automated programs, known as ‘bots,’ to send these transactions to the network. These MEV chances can vary greatly, including possibilities for decentralized exchange (DEX) arbitrage to loan liquidations.

Competition can get intense in instances where there’s a high chance of earning from MEV. At such times, a searcher might end up paying nearly 90% of their potential MEV income in transaction fees just to ensure their transaction gets processed before others.

Validators and miners stand to benefit in these situations, as they receive a portion of the MEV when searchers pay hefty fees to guarantee their transaction goes through.

But while this might sound shady, some experts argue that MEV can bring positive change. They believe it could spur innovation and motivate better security in the blockchain world.

Consider MEV as a ‘hidden cost’ that users must pay. Techniques like sandwich attacks and frontrunning can eat into their profits. However, some people in the field believe that MEV can improve a blockchain network.

Insights from European policy experts

Anja Blaj, a policy expert at the European Crypto Initiative, wants to clarify a few things about MEV. She says it’s wrong to label MEV as a potential market abuse. It has positive implications, too.

However, she agrees that in certain limited circumstances, the outcomes of MEV might resemble those produced by market abuse. According to Anja, the key function of MEV is to reward validators for the beneficial tasks they perform.

Still, the regulations broadened the EU’s current market abuse guidelines to include reporting any doubtful activity. As per ESMA’s discussions on addressing market abuse, it’s not just about transactions.

The way distributed ledger technology functions, like the consensus mechanism, is also a cause for concern. ESMA highlighted that MiCA doesn’t require crypto service providers to report activity like scams or payment fraud.

Financial and tech guru Peter Kerstens offered her perspective on MEV. She believes MEV is neither good nor bad, but it does raise important questions about how markets operate.

Kerstens explained that while the MEV technique sometimes leads to integrity concerns and market abuse, such as frontrunning, this isn’t always the case.

Last year, the EU concluded the MiCA legislation, becoming the first significant authority to regulate the rapidly growing digital assets industry fully.

ESMA and the European Banking Authority are discussing MiCA directives and deciding on the rules that they’re required to follow under MiCA. Industry experts are also looking to work together with these regulatory bodies to make the rules clearer, especially for those providing services.

The EUCI is asking the ESMA to clarify when the MEV technique could be considered market abuse.