Embattled German lender Deutsche Bank (DB) - Get Report has a clear mantra: No government bailout for us!

In a statement earlier this week, bank spokesman Jörg Eigendorf ruled it out once again: "This question is not on our agenda," he said. "Deutsche Bank is determined to meet the challenges on its own."

His denial was in response to an article in the news magazine Focus, claiming Chancellor Angela Merkel had ruled out any financial help for the bank in "election year 2017," although it is hard to imagine letting the country's largest financial institution fail would be more of an election-winner than even the costliest rescue.

The shares have continued to plunge, as the markets ignore the bank's assertions that its capital base is still strong and it complies with all related requirements. 

Yet, whatever the true state of Deutsche Bank's finances, the focus on government intervention may anyway be misplaced. according to Philip Prowse, a partner in the commodities trade finance section at British law firm Holman Fenwick Willan.

If Germany's largest lender does require a helping hand, it will be a test case for tough new European Union laws designed to get the taxpayer off the hook and bail in bondholders and creditors instead.

Under the EU's Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive - brought in following the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis and in force in Germany since January 2015 - at least 8% of a bank's liabilities must be wiped out before any public money can be injected.

"The issue around the German government supporting the bank is misleading," he said, "because the BRRD is the toolkit that is there to enable the German regulator, Bafin, to assist and help an institution that is regarded as systematically too important to fail to recapitalize and recover.

"That toolkit includes writing down, reducing in whole or in part or converting into equity certain liabilities that have arisen on or after January 1, 2015 [...] The focus should be on the position of the shareholders and the creditors, not whether or not the government and the taxpayer are going to pick up the tab."

The BRRD allows regulators to reduce, cancel, write off or convert enough equity into debt to ensure governments do not need to intervene. According to Prowse the rules should be enough to prevent the kind of run on any systemically too-big-to-fail bank.

Regulators have powers to intervene early. They can put in new managers, institute repair, recovery and, if necessary, resolution measures without the need for taxpayer intervention. Instead of the government, Prowse argued, "this could be visited upon the shareholders and the bondholders."

Describing the BRRD as a sledgehammer, he said the rules were crafted to limit the ability of creditors to claim exemptions or use non-EU courts to avoid haircuts and bail-ins even where the documentation uses New York or other non-EU law. Under Article 55 of the directive, all new contracts must include a clause specifically recognizing that an instrument could potentially be subject to a bail-in.

What is more, contracts that pre-date BRRD must be revised retrospectively to include bail-in provisions whenever there is a "material" amendment of the documentation. That means "virtually anything more than a typo, a change of contact address or the automatic updating of an interest rate," according to Prowse.

And to prevent hedge funds or other creditors from calling in loans early or otherwise withdrawing funds, the regulators will also have the power to stay termination  and subject these funds to the same write-downs, cancellations or conversion to equity as other debt. 

Nonetheless, there are some exemptions, although there are none for Deutsche Bank's vast portfolio of derivatives. Secured bonds, short-term borrowing, taxes, certain small and medium sized business liabilities and client money and fiduciary relationships - a particular area of concern for Deutsche Bank's asset management arm - would not be subject to write-downs. And retail investors will also be protected under separate EU rules protecting deposits of up to €100,000 ($112,015).

Under the arcane rules of European law-making, the fact that the BRRD is a directive, rather than a regulation, means that each member state of the Union, as well as members of the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) are required to put it into effect through national legislation. That allows each country to tailor certain exemptions to suit its own needs.

Whether governments have the political will to enforce the rules is a different matter. Germany, like Britain, helped drive the EU's reforms in the wake of the financial crisis and, according to Prowse, would be unlikely to have put in many tweaks.

The U.K. has put in a clause allowing counterparties lending to British banks under New York, Swiss or other non-EU law, an exemption from the requirement to include language recognizing the bail-in provision where it is "impracticable" to do so.

But that does not mean the U.K., as one of the architects of the BRRD, has broader political objections to its provisions. With Brexit looming, British governments are likely to want to retain the taxpayer protections the law puts in place.