Over 500 candidates pledge to roll back the power of the financial lobby
by Kenneth Haar
To take the right turn with financial markets we need to remove the obstacles.
In the weeks before the elections to the European Parliament, the Change Finance coalition campaigned to have candidates sign on to a pledge – five steps to roll back the power of the financial lobby. We asked citizens across Europe to take action and send letters to their representatives. On the day of the elections, we had the support of over 500 prospective members of the European Parliament, of whom 76 have been elected. The challenge in the coming months and years is to convert the support we got from them into real action that matters.
It has been clear for a decade now: With a force of more than 1,700 lobbyists, the financial lobby has teeth. They exert a strong influence on the rules in the EU, and they have been able to prevent much needed reforms such as rules on banking separation and a tax on financial transactions. In fact, despite a severe financial meltdown in 2008, the advances in the European Union towards a financial system that serves people and planet, have been small and insignificant.
In that light, it is encouraging to see how many candidates were prepared to make a promise. There is a need for new measures to stop the lobbyists from putting a spanner in the wheels for change. This is necessary to make the financial system become a means for equality and sustainability – not inequality and environmental destruction.
It is not that there are no rules on lobbyists in Brussels, but the existing rules have been no obstacle for the big banks in recent years. New steps have to be taken, and we feel we have the formula. Interaction with lobbyists from the financial sector will have to be reduced, they should not be able to dominate advisory bodies, they should not be able to become high-level civil servants due to conflicts of interest, and – of course – there must be transparency around their meetings with both civil servants and politicians.
In our view, these steps are self-evident and ought to be uncontroversial. Unfortunately, that’s not the tune we have heard from powerful voices in the European Parliament over the years. In particular, the powerful conservative EPP group has fought tooth and nail against lobbying regulation on many occasions, with very few exceptions in the group. That is reflected in the pledges we have received. There are few if any EPP candidates that have signed on. It is clear, then, that while we can start working on effective lobbying reforms, we face stiff political opposition.
But we cannot shy away from the challenge. In Europe we stand at a crossroads with one way leading to further deregulation, risks for a financial meltdown, and gross inequality, and another way leading to a financial system that is brought under democratic control . We need to deal with the banks that are too big to fail, we need to ensure fair taxation of the financial sector, and we need to stop harmful speculation. To do that, we need to clear a hurdle as we go: the financial lobby.