Counter Balance activity report 2012-2013

Read our activity report 2012-2013 here.

activityreportThe opening letter by our director Xavier Sol as a way of introduction:

Counter  Balance  is  a  network  in  motion.  Since  our foundation in 2007 we have moved from a NGO campaign challenging  the  European  Investment  Bank  (EIB),  to  an independent  organisation  working  in  the  wider  field  of European  public  financial  institutions.  Our  organisation has grown to 8 permanent members active in 12 countries. We have established broad networks both at EU level and with grassroots organisations in the South.

Our first activity report is a new step in the development of Counter Balance, with the aim of keeping our expanding group of partners and stakeholders informed and involved in the progress of our organisation.

In recent years we have covered a broad range of topics related  to  public  finance  and  the  EIB  in  particular.  Last year  we  centred  our  efforts  on  energy  and  the  EIB’s decision to stop funding coal was a major achievement. In fact, since our first interaction with the EIB we have seen the bank evolving in many ways. It has de facto stopped lending  to  the  mining  sector;  the  fossil  fuel  dominated energy portfolio of the bank has instead shifted towards a  more  renewable  energy  oriented  one.  Furthermore, the EIB has taken steps to become more transparent and open to dialogue with civil society; it now organises yearly
meetings between civil society and the bank’s directors. Counter Balance has pushed for each of these changes.

Despite  several  improvements,  more  pressure  is needed  if  we  want  a  bank  capable  of  having  a  positive development impact, putting human rights to the fore and truly accountable to EU citizens and those affected by its projects. Such a bank would be less dependent on financial markets  and  would  not  finance  large  infrastructure  for the  sake  of  it.  It  would  look  for  sustainable  solutions  to overcome  today’s  structural  problems  instead  of  further developing the very operations that caused the problems in the first place.

The  relevance  of  our  mission  has  been  strengthened  by the  EIB’s  capital  increase  which  will  allow  it  to  lend  at unprecedented levels this year. Strengthened governance and  increased  public  scrutiny  of  its  activities  are  more necessary now than ever before.

Yet it would be a mistake to focus solely on the EIB. The European  Bank  for  Reconstruction  and  Development (EBRD) is another public bank operating in a similar way. It  would  be  a  missed  opportunity  if  we  didn’t  use  our experience to campaign for the same changes at this bank, whose operations are increasingly converging with those of the EIB.

In addition, we feel it is highly important that we share our experience and findings with partners working on national investment banks. Decisions made at the EU level largely determine the policies and priorities of these banks and can  potentially  have  an  even  deeper  impact  than  policy changes within public banks themselves. Therefore, it is crucial to closely monitor the development of EU policies.

Despite the challenges ahead, we also identify alternatives and solutions. Citizens can work together to produce their own  energy.  New  forms  of  direct  democracy  are  being explored  and  calls  for  transparency  and  accountability in  public  spending  have  never  been  louder.  People are  demonstrating  the  strong  will  to  shape  their  own future  and  are  demanding  that  public  institutions  act  in everyone’s interests. Counter Balance sees its role as that of facilitator for these processes: holding debates on the role of public investment and supporting community-led initiatives.

We have won some battles but many more still need to be fought. Certain issues have been pushed down the agenda while new ones have emerged. We have teamed up with partners  from  different  regions  all  over  the  world  and we  are  currently  broadening  our  membership.  Together we  keep  pushing  for  genuine  change  in  the  culture  of European public banks.

These are the challenges that Counter Balance faces and the opportunities we need to seize. We want them to be reflected in our work, every day.

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