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.