Thursday, 2 September 2010

Financial lobbyists ‘educating’ MEPs?

Both the MEPs and banking lobbyists that participate in the European Parliamentary Financial Services Forum (EPFSF) claim that the EPFSF is not a lobby group but a “forum for discussion”.

Commenting on the recent call from more than 70 MEPs to counter the dominance of big banks and investment firms in the debates around financial reform in Europe, Catherine Denis, Director of EPFSF, told Public Affairs News that the objective of the EPFSF “is to organise debates where all participants can express their different points of view, including representatives of consumer groups”. This is also the impression given in the EPFSF’s Governance Principles.

On 2 September 2010, the EPFSF organised a seminar for MEP assistants to “educate” them on derivatives markets and the impacts of the proposals on the review of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID). Derivatives (described by critics as “weapons of financial mass destruction”) are very controversial due to their role in the financial meltdown, but the financial industry is fighting tooth and nail against stricter regulation of derivatives. The European Parliament will decide on these matters in the coming months and the EPFSF event looks very much like an effort to lobby MEPs (via their assistants) on how to regulate the derivatives markets.

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) asked Catherine Denis if we could attend the seminar, wanting to see for ourselves whether or not the EPFSF is acting as a lobbying vehicle for the financial industry. The response was that this was not possible because “only speakers and MEP assistants will attend”. However, Catherine Denis argued, “we have included speakers who are representatives from end-users”.

In the list of speakers, however, the only end-users of financial services we can see are Lufthansa and the European Association of Corporate Treasurers which are against strict regulation of derivatives. They will speak along with derivatives managers and brokers at least two of which are members of ISDA, the controversial lobby coalition of the derivatives industry. Not one single consumer organisation or other critical voice is involved.

Denis also informed us that in their “regular lunch and breakfast events”, the EPFSF now reserves four seats in the room (but none on the panel) for ‘consumer’ groups ranging from BEUC to EuroInvestors (which includes the union of European shareholders). “We might not be able to fill all the gaps regarding the diversity of sources of expertise, but we are doing our best to foster conditions enabling an open dialogue”, Denis stated in her response to CEO.

It is unclear how often genuine consumer groups like BEUC, or FIN-USE have been invited by EPFSF, but we can surely say the EPFSF has a strange perception of words like ‘diversity’ and ‘open dialogue’.

There are signs that MEPs are getting more critical of the EPFSF than was the case in the past. This is a healthy development. Surely the EPFSF should not be considered a neutral forum for discussion. Funded and controlled by banks and investment firms, the EPFSF plays a pivotal role as a lobbying vehicle for financial industry players aiming to influence MEPs.

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