I want to tell you a funny thing about the European Investment Bank. But first, some background: I’m Mike Bonanno, and I’m a Yes Man. For over fifteen years, my friend Andy and I have been impersonating some of the worlds largest, nastiest and most criminal corporations. We’ve posed as the likes of Exxon, Halliburton, Dow Chemical and many more. We record these surprise satirical interventions, and then send them out to the world.
We do it to expose crime, ignorance and greed. And because Andy and I like to have a good laugh, humor, lunacy and boldness are always part of our act. We’ve sold the hilarious Survival Ball, presented a three-foot-long golden phallus as a management tool for sweatshops, and “promoted” fuel made from human climate change victims among many other things.
We love doing this kind pranking with a purpose, and it works to get lots of attention for an issue. So when the folks at Counter Balance and Bankwatch asked us to help them take on the European Investment Bank (EIB), we jumped at the chance. Or, more reasonably described, we asked them a simple question.
“What’s the European Investment Bank?” Although the EIB isn’t very well known, they told us, it takes care of a good deal of Europe’s money. The “EU bank”, as it calls itself, is the biggest public lending institution - bigger than the World Bank - and it is owned by the European member states. The EIB’s mandate is to further EU sustainable development objectives, including quickly cutting carbon emissions. On their website, the EIB claims to be "among the largest providers of finance for climate action." But they fail to mention one little detail: They also make massive loans to coal-fired power plants (also in Poland) and other dirty energy sources.
Counter Balance and Bankwatch asked our Yes Lab to help reveal the EIB’s hypocrisy.
Now, compared to some other actions by the Yes Men, this one wasn’t meant to merely ridicule them. We wanted to tell clearly what we see as the only way forward for the EIB, but also send a positive message that we believe the bank can do this.
The day before the Bank was scheduled to have its exclusive annual press conference, we sent out a fake EIB press release announcing that the bank would finally do the right thing and stop financing coal power plants. The story was immediately picked up by business press. Our actor who posed as an EIB representative had to answer calls from journalists the entire afternoon and many journalists wrote to our fake email address asking for details on the EIB’s coal lending. That was exactly what we wanted media to ask!
The EIB responded quickly with a denial, threatening legal retaliation. But that wasn’t all yet.
At the press conference the next day, our actor gained entry to the exclusive event - thanks to Krytyka Polityczna’s press badge! - and he presented EIB President Werner Hoyer with a stunning award, thanking him and the bank for their commitment to divest from fossil fuels.
Hoyer tried to brush it aside and move on but during the Q&A session numerous questions pressed the EIB representatives to explain more about their efforts against climate change. Our work there was done. (Well, almost, we also put up a much bigger version of the smokestack outside the building and several passers-by were wondering and asking what this was about.)
So here we are. A European Investment Bank that doesn’t lend to coal is still a dream, but last week Counter Balance, Bankwatch and the Yes Men helped many Europeans imagine how it would be. The EIB could play a leading role in decarbonising Europe, EU citizens would applaud and the bank would maybe, maybe even receive a real award from environmentalists.
Until then there’ll be some more actions to do.