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Are your EU parliamentary candidates ready to #ChangeFinance?

As we go to the polls to select our next set of representatives on May 23rd, we need them to be bold and ambitious and to serve the interests of people and planet.

But there’s something in the way. Right now, an army of lobbyists are working relentlessly to get finance rules written in banks’ favour, rather than citizens.

We want our future Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to know that this community is looking for real leadership when we head to the ballot box.

That’s exactly why you and hundreds of people across the EU are taking action to deliver our message to MEP candidates across Europe, with a demand that they stand up to the banks and the growing influence of the financial lobby.

Let’s make sure that your candidates understand the urgency to #ChangeFinance. Send a letter asking them to take action.


  • When you enter your postal code below, our system will automatically track down the candidates standing for election in your area.
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  • You can also translate the suggested message directly in your language. For example, have a look at this Finnish translation.

Why is the lobby so bad?

Over 1.700 lobbyists work for the financial sector in Brussels, and they have a clear focus: to increase their profits and prevent laws that challenge them. For example, in March this year, they lobbied hard against rules that would make financing fossil fuels more expensive.

Financial lobbyists persuade politicians to vote for weak laws that give them permission to speculate, including on companies, housing, food and public services. This results in workers earning less, consumers paying more and rich people getting higher returns, leading to growing inequality. Many attempts to secure sustainable models for society are undercut by the financial sector.

What’s more, the risks it takes could lead to another monumental financial crisis. Experts warn that such a crisis will be worse than the collapse of 2008, which cost billions of euros in taxpayers’ money to bail out banks. People lost their jobs and homes, and many countries were immersed in austerity policies.

If we roll back the power of the financial lobby and prevent it from dominating decision-making spaces, such as the European Parliament, we can build a healthy and democratic future for Europe and its citizens.

Why does this matter now?

In Brussels, powerful financial companies are able to put their interests first on the agenda.  The lobbyists that represent big banks and investment funds use all kinds of arguments to persuade decision-makers that there is no need for measures to change the financial system, whose primary function is their benefit. In 2018, only 31% of EU bank assets were lent to households and non-financial companies, while almost 70% were devoted to speculative activities.

Vast lobby budgets have allowed the financial sector to deeply penetrate each of the EU institutions and prevent strict financial reforms. It has been very difficult for the voice of civil society to be heard and the public interest given priority. Given this imbalance, the financial lobby needs to be kept at bay to protect the integrity of democratic decision-making.

Changing the financial system is about changing the way money is handled and who gets the best financial services. Most of this is decided in EU institutions, of which the European Parliament plays an important role.

To set society on the course towards equality and sustainability, we urge the next set of parliamentarians to create another playing field: one that will prevent those with big money from dominating big politics, and one that will secure other voices in the debate.

In the new parliamentary session, we need parliamentarians to take ambitious measures to roll back the power and overwhelming influence of the financial lobby, which prevents the interests of many European citizens being served.

What have lobbyists been up to since 2008?

The crash of 2008 led to a public outcry against an out-of-control financial system. Millions of European citizens lost their jobs, with many losing their homes. At the same time, big banks were bailed out with hundreds of millions of euros of taxpayer money. The resulting eurocrisis led directly to cuts in public services and welfare in EU countries. People demanded far-reaching reforms to prevent such a disaster ever happening again.

Since then, the financial lobby has fought tooth and nail to prevent fundamental change. It defends the interests of the big banks, investment funds and insurance companies, and it does not see a problem with a financial system tailored entirely to make quick profits. Using all available inroads to power, they have managed to prevent effective reform.


  • Proposals to make banks more robust have been watered down, first at the international level, then at the EU level.
  • A legislative proposal to separate basic banking from speculative investment banking was abandoned in the EU, even though it was backed up by a high level expert panel.
  • A tax on financial transactions (FTT) was agreed in principle by 11 EU Member States, but negotiations are now frozen, in no small part due to the intervention of the financial lobby.
  • An attempt to impose strong regulation on hedge funds – the most speculative organisations on the planet – was reduced to little more than a bit of transparency. In fact, the new EU rules made it easier for hedge funds to operate across Europe.
  • The implementation of a law was watered down, where it was meant to reduce speculating in nano seconds, and on food and energy prices.

As a result of the lengthy campaign conducted by well-connected, well-funded lobbyists, what we see in the EU is a financial system fraught with the same injustices and dangers as in 2008. We are sleepwalking into the next crash.

The biggest banks are still so big they are bound to be bailed out with public money, should they fail. For that reason, a European fund (ESM) is now capable of lending 500 billion euros under the Banking Union to bailout banks. Even the kind of speculative financial products that were blamed for igniting the crisis in 2008 have been allowed to reappear under the Capital Markets Union.

There is still a long way to go before we have reached the goal of financial markets at the service of society – a financial system that can secure and strengthen welfare, sustainability and social justice. The key lesson from the past decade is that for us to succeed with those objectives, we need to roll back the power of the financial lobby.

Some facts about the power of finance

Some facts about the financial system

  • Europe’s banks use only around 1/8th (12%) of their balance sheet lending to “real” economy businesses. (Source: ECB- 1 & 2)
  • The banking sector, especially the biggest banks, uses most of its balance sheet lending to trade with other financial firms. The easiest way to trade things quickly and in huge amounts is by using speculative activities such as derivatives. Official statistics show us that the gross market value of over-the-counter derivatives is around a whopping $15 trillion. Staggeringly, at least 90% of this is solely between financial firms – with the real economy accounting for less than 10%.
  • Another thing the banking sector does more than lending to businesses is lending to households, (19% of total assets) – overwhelmingly for mortgages (15% of total assets). Across Europe more and more of us face tying ourselves to banks for life just to get a home. Mortgage-financed private housing is a financial stability problem for banks, it drives up house prices and it increases inequality between owners and renters.
  • Finance feeds inequality and inequality feeds finance. The wealthiest 10% of households own 51.2% of the total net wealth – they invest their wealth in financial assets, earning interest and dividends,  while the rest of us borrow, paying interest and fees, just to meet basic needs like housing, education and health.
  • Tax avoidance is a massive drain on our governments’ ability to tackle our social and environmental crisis. The Tax Justice Network has compiled various estimates of global tax avoidance. For example, IMF researchers estimated the annual tax loss to be around $600bn. This is only made possible by the financial system, which provides offshore accounts and ‘special purpose’ financial structures. The Tax Justice Network calls them “enablers and intermediaries” of tax avoidance. For example the UniGlobal union says: ‘wealthy individuals (not including companies) are estimated to hold up to $32 trillion offshore
  • The financial system helps illicit financial flows (IFF) to leave developing countries, depriving citizens of their means to create wealth. Billions of Euros of illicit money from corrupt acts, tax avoidance or tax evasion are flowing out of developing countries every year, leaving societies without the needed resources to build their economies. The High Level Panel on IFF estimated in 2015 that $50 billion of illicit gains are leaving Africa every year. More recent estimates by UNECA indicate that IFF numbers from Africa reach $100 billion per year – surpassing the amount paid to Africa via official development aid (ODA) by 100% (ODA for Africa in 2016 was 45 billion Euro). As stated in the point above, this is only made possible by financial institutions providing offshore accounts and other means to launder the illicit money.
  • The world has too much debt. Not government debt as those pushing austerity would like us to believe. But private debt. Almost certainly the largest amount of private debt is between different sorts of financial firms but good data on this is difficult to come by. Private debt between the financial system and other firms and households however is massive and has been growing steadily for years, even before the crisis. The Bank for International Settlements calculates that, in 2017, there was over $110 trillion worth of private debt to normal firms and households. Simply put this cannot be paid back by the system we have now. Big changes are needed to slow down the production of new debt and to start eliminating the existing debts.
  • In 2008, governments judged that a handful of enormous financial firms, like banks and insurance companies, were too-big-to-fail. They bailed them out at a direct cost of trillions, and a wider cost of ruined economies and terrible social hardship. Yet today the problem of too-big-to-fail banks and others is still with us – conceivably worse than ever. Europe still has 11 Globally-Strategically Important Banks. According to the ECB, large banks account for over 70% of Europe’s banking assets. There are only around 35 of them and their average size is almost 700 billion, over 50 times that of medium-sized banks (average size just €13 billion). A failure in just one of these big banks could lead to a domino effect and the collapse of the financial system and economic recession. So at the first sign of trouble, just like in 2008, governments will bail them out again.
  • The business practices of the world’s major banks continue to be aligned with climate disaster. 33 global banks poured $1.9 trillion into fossil fuels since 2016, with financing on the rise each year. This is more than all the currency in circulation in the US!
  • Bank financing for fossil fuels has increased each year since the Paris Agreement. (2016: $612 billion; 2017: $646 billion; 2018: $654 billion)
  • Meanwhile, investments in renewable energy remain low in comparison, and they have even decreased in the last year. (2016: $330.1 billion; 2017: $361.7 billion; 2018: $332.1 billion)
  • To tackle environmental breakdown, we need to proactively direct finance to projects that can make a difference. Yet, since the crisis, so-called passive investing is on the rise, where, remarkably, we leave even more investment decisions to mathematical formulas, robots and discredited economic theories than before:  Around the world, 38% of managed equity assets are now invested in passive funds. In the US, the figure has reached 50% and in 2016 around $340 billion were moved out from actively managed funds, while $505 billion flowed into passive vehicles.
  • The switch to passive investing has also handed incredible power to the big 3 asset managers of BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street . These three control over $11 trillion of assets and they invest in largely the same things. This makes them together the largest shareholder in over 90% of firms in the S&P500, the index of America’s largest 500 firms, and largest shareholder in over 40% of all listed firms in the US. A profoundly undemocratic concentration of control.

Climate change will dramatically alter our economies, new activities will rise, old sectors will die. The financial sector is not ready for such drastic changes. Researchers put their potential losses in the tens of trillions.  For our over-indebted, over-connected, fragile financial system the scale of such losses will prove catastrophic. Once again governments will be called on to bail them out.


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