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What Is Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA)?

12 mins
Fact Checked
by May Woods
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Since the inception of Bitcoin over 15 years ago, the crypto market has grown significantly. However, the industry still needs a clearer and universal regulatory framework in most jurisdictions. This has put crypto investors at risk, leaving the industry open to various consumer protection challenges and market manipulation. To address these issues, the European Union proposed and established the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) in September 2020.

In this guide, we’ll explore what MiCA is, its history, why it matters, its benefits and drawbacks, and how to become compliant with MiCA.

What is the Markets in Crypto-Assets regulation (MiCA)?

Proposed in September 2020 and approved in April 2023, the Markets in Crypto-Assets Regulation from the European Commission governs the E.U.’s crypto sector.

It’s the first explicit regulation for crypto assets applicable to the European Union that offers legal clarity for stakeholders involved in the ecosystem. It also explains digital assets, categorizing them, what regulations apply, and who is accountable for enforcing them. MiCA aims to address crypto sector regulatory issues, ensuring a level playing field for crypto institutions in the E.U. and eliminating regulatory fragmentation among member states.

MiCA regulations protect investors, prevent fraud, and ensure compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and financial laws.

The European Union expects these regulations to become effective between 2024 and 2025. It has been designed to provide an extensive framework for various digital assets, including digital currencies, stablecoins, and security tokens. MiCA regulations will make Europe a leading region for regulated crypto activities, surpassing Africa, the U.S., and Asia. Now, let’s examine the history of markets in crypto-assets.

History of Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA)

European Banking Authority stablecoin

Regulation of Europe’s crypto markets began in 2017 due to the absence of specific legal frameworks. On Oct. 10, 2022, the European Council passed the MiCA regulations bill with a 28 to one vote, forwarding it to the European Parliament. On April 20, 2023, the Parliament approved MiCA with 517 votes for and 38 against.

The MiCA bill became law in June 2023. However, the public received three consultation packages of the bill to provide feedback. By June 2024, Titles III and IV of the MiCA regulations will be in force, with Titles I, II, V, VI, and VII set to apply in December 2024.

Crypto institutions must register in one of the European Union’s member states to sell and market under MiCA. Additionally, these crypto companies must protect investors and ensure financial stability. The European Banking Authority and the European Securities and Markets Authority will supervise them to ensure compliance.

Why MiCA matters

MiCA matters because it introduces a united legislative framework across the E.U. for crypto assets that existing financial laws do not cater to. Thus, MiCA is essential because it offers:

  • Consumer protection: MiCA aims to shield consumers and investors from fraud and market manipulation, ensuring crypto market integrity.
  • Financial stability: The bill addresses some systemic risks that crypto-assets pose to the financial system due to their continued adoption by users. 
  • Legal clarity: MiCA regulations will provide clear legal guidelines for the crypto sector in the European Union, which has lacked clear laws on what crypto assets are or how to protect consumers for a long time.
  • Prevention of market manipulation: MiCA regulations aim to reduce the risks associated with fraudulent and illegal practices in the crypto asset sector.
  • Boost innovation and competition: A clear regulatory framework will encourage innovation and fair competition among crypto service providers.

Who and what will MiCA apply to? 

MiCA will cover businesses offering crypto assets or related services in the European Union, introducing licenses for crypto asset service providers (CASPs) like custodial wallets, advising firms, and trading exchanges. It will regulate three asset types: asset-referenced tokens (ARTs), electronic money tokens (EMTs), and utility tokens.

What does MiCA cover?

This section looks more in-depth at the MiCA regulation and its scope.

Classification of crypto assets

MICA crypto assets

A key feature of the MiCA bill is the classification of crypto assets that utilize a decentralized ledger technology (DLT).  When it comes to assets, MiCA will apply to three kinds of assets:

  • Asset-referenced tokens (ARTs) include stablecoins backed by one or multiple currencies or commodities that seek to provide a token with a stable value.
  • Electronic money tokens (EMTs) are stablecoins backed 1:1 by one fiat currency, such as the dollar or euro.
  • Other tokens not considered as ART or EMT, such as utility tokens, offer digital access to a service or good on a blockchain and are accepted by the token issuer.

Crypto-assets are not covered by MiCA

While the MiCA bill includes stablecoin regulations, it will not apply to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) unless the specific NFT’s characteristics make it comparable to the assets that MiCA covers. MiCA won’t apply to decentralized apps (DApps), decentralized finance (DeFi), or web3 protocols, as they function without intermediaries. MiCA regulations also do not cover Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).

Consumer protection measures in MiCA regulation

MiCA places a big emphasis on protecting consumers and investors to guarantee market integrity. The introduction of MiCA, therefore, seeks to protect consumers and investors against deep-rooted risks linked with the volatile nature of digital currencies, financial fraud, and market manipulation. 

MiCA reduces these risks by enforcing robust requirements on issuers and service providers of crypto assets. This helps to build confidence and trust among investors and users who engage with crypto assets. 

AML and CTF provisions

MiCA aims to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing via crypto by imposing harsh anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) measures. For starters, CASPs will need to be registered and undergo extensive AML/CTF checks before they can provide their services. 

CASPs must submit applications detailing their internal control mechanisms, procedures, and policies for assessing, identifying, and managing risks.

In addition, CASPs will need to conduct proper due diligence on their customers before verifying them and have a proper transaction monitoring system for record-keeping to detect and report suspicious activities. 

Sanctions under MiCA

The bill highlights various penalties and sanctions that will be used to address any non-adherence or breaches of its outlined guidelines and rules. The worse the infringement, the more severe the sanction. Some of the possible sanctions include authorization withdrawals, bans, monetary fines, and public warnings. 

Markets in Crypto-Assets titles

The Markets in Crypto-Assets regulations are divided into nine different titles. The seven titles out of the nine address crypto asset authorization, jurisdiction responsibilities, and regulation.

Title VIII and IX, on the other hand, explain the powers that the European Commission has to specify various elements of the regulation and the transitional provisions awaiting the bill’s enforcement. Let’s take a look at the first seven titles below. 

Markets in Crypto-Assets Title I

Article 1 of the MiCA Title I covers the requirements for crypto asset service providers to the public. Article 2 covers who the MiCA regulation applies to, and Article 3 defines all the terms used in the regulation, such as consensus mechanism, distributed ledger, and distributed ledger technology, among others. 

Markets in Crypto-Assets Title III

Split into two chapters with multiple articles defining what asset-referenced tokens (ARTs) are and their offering. This Title details who can issue ARTs, the requirements applicable to credit institutions, how to apply for authorization, and the content of the crypto asset white paper for asset-referenced tokens, among others. 

Markets in Crypto-Assets Title IV

Title IV delves into electronic money tokens (EMTs) and explains the authorization process for EMT issuers, who can issue EMTs, and how to write an EMT whitepaper. 

Markets in Crypto-Assets Title V

Title V discusses the authorization and operating conditions for CASPs. It also looks at who can offer crypto-asset services and where they can offer them within the E.U. Businesses must be licensed and authorized to operate in the said Member State. 

Markets in Crypto-Assets Title VII

This Title provides instructions on the powers that competent authorities, such as the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) have and the sanctions such bodies can adopt. It also requires that Member States appoint competent authorities to report to the EBA and ESMA. 

What are the benefits and challenges of MiCA?

While crypto regulations are necessary, they have their benefits and drawbacks. Below are some benefits and challenges of the MiCA regulations:

Benefits

  • Consumer protection: MiCA highlights how consumers and investors participating in the crypto market will be protected. The imposed regulations will help to reduce fraud, market manipulations, and scams, thus increasing confidence and trust in the crypto market. 
  • Innovation: By enforcing the MiCA regulations, the European region will have a unified legal framework to refer to that will help foster new ideas in the crypto industry leading to increased adoption and growth. 
  • Legal certainty: The regulation will offer consumers, investors, and service providers a clear and certain definition and categorization of crypto assets in the EU. It will also blend the standards and rules about crypto assets, allowing users to know their rights and risk exposure.  
  • Market integrity: MiCA outlines much-awaited measures that will help to eliminate major abusive trading practices, like insider trading and market manipulation. This will ensure a more level playing field for all entities operating in the crypto sector.

Challenges

  • Compliance burden: One concern raised regarding MiCA is the probable burden of compliance that it will impose on businesses operating in the European Union. The demand for white papers and systems could place a huge burden on issuers, especially small businesses.
  • Existing regulatory framework: Given that certain jurisdictions already have existing legal frameworks, introducing MiCA may create conflict, requiring businesses to comply with different legislations that could be complex and costly. 

Requirements for crypto token issuers

The MiCA regulation has outlined certain requirements for crypto token issuers of ARTs, EMTs, and utility tokens. Under MiCA, crypto token issuers must get authorization from the European Central Bank (ECB) and issue a white paper containing all the information about their token for investors.
They must also comply with governance requirements around information disclosure, marketing information, and navigating conflicts of interest. They must also ensure they can meet redemption requests and have enough liquidity. The European Banking Authority (EBA) will also oversee crypto token issuers to ensure they remain compliant.

Although MiCA already entered into force in 2023, the regulation features a significant number of Level 2 and 3 measures that need to be fully developed before MiCA becomes effective.

During MiCA’s implementation phase, ESMA, alongside EBA, ECB, and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), is tasked with consulting with the public on a wide range of technical standards that will be published successively in three packages. The goal is to submit Level 2 and 3 measures that include feedback from the public without delay.

What are the key points of the MiCA regulation?

The MiCA regulation is a new legal framework in the EU that aims to regulate crypto assets that aren’t currently governed by existing financial laws. The regulation has essentially taken some of the practices found in existing financial market legislation and tailored them to fit crypto assets.

MiCA was created to address the lack of legislation in the crypto sector, serving three key points:

  • To establish a unifying legal framework to serve the European Union region, thus replacing individual country legislation.
  • To set clear guidelines for token issuers and crypto-asset service providers.
  • To provide clear crypto asset regulation, especially where existing financial regulations are lacking.

When will MiCA become effective?

The MiCA regulation was enacted in June 2023 after the European Parliament approved it. Despite already being law, the new regulations will start to take effect in phases in 2024, providing crypto companies with a transitional period to get accustomed and adapt to the new rules.

The first set of regulations will become effective from June 30, 2024, while the second wave of legislation will be activated from Dec. 30, 2024.

How do we prepare and comply with MiCA?

The Markets in Crypto-Assets regulation will introduce major changes for the crypto sector in the E.U. Therefore, CASPs and token issuers must prepare and comply with this new set of rules. Below are some tips on how crypto consumers and crypto-asset service providers can prepare for MiCA:

Understanding the regulatory requirements applicable to your business

MiCA regulation includes many rules and guidelines. Crypto companies should assess which rules affect their business, products, services, and operations to ensure compliance. Additionally, companies in the European Union must understand the legal and regulatory framework of crypto assets. They can achieve this by seeking legal advice and developing a compliance plan.

Create a compliance plan

regulation and compliance influencer marketing

Crypto entities must create clear compliance policies and internal standing operating procedures. In addition, companies will also need to train their staff on MiCA requirements and have transparent conversations with regulators on matters of compliance. 

To get started, CASPs and token issuing companies can begin by applying for the necessary permits that authorize them to offer the different classifications of crypto assets. 

Update systems and security

To ensure compliance, companies providing crypto assets must review their systems and security access rights to abide by the E.U. standards to ensure data privacy. In addition, they will need to keep transaction records and conduct due diligence on the customers they have to prevent AML and CTF.

Review or create a whitepaper

Crypto entities must have a published whitepaper whose content reflects what the regulation has proposed for them to be MiCA-compliant. For companies without a whitepaper, this is a good time to create one; for those with one, it might be time to review the same and update it.

Stay updated and informed

Given that MiCA is an evolving regulation whose implementation requires public participation, crypto companies must remain informed and updated on the changes being made to the regulation before it becomes effective. 

MiCA’s evolution: What lies ahead for crypto regulation?

MiCA represents a significant regulation, offering legal clarity to the European crypto industry, which has long operated without clear regulations. Its implementation introduces a vital legal framework, essential as the crypto sector expands and matures. Regulatory frameworks like MiCA are critical in shaping the industry’s future, ensuring stability and growth.

Despite MiCA’s complexity and its mixed benefits and drawbacks, establishing clear regulations is crucial for boosting consumer and investor confidence. The phased implementation of MiCA adds an element of anticipation. It will be interesting to observe how the regulation is embraced and the strategies employed to overcome these challenges.

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Alex Lielacher
Alex Lielacher is an experienced figure on the Crypto world. Journalist and founder, an agency that works with a range of bitcoin businesses. He first came across bitcoin in 2011 and has worked full-time in the cryptocurrency industry since 2016. Previously Managing Editor of Bitcoin Market Journal, Alex holds a first-class honors in Investment and Financial Risk Management from Bayes Business School. Today, Alex contributes to leading media publications and works with a range of bitcoin...
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