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One year on …what has Finance Watch achieved?

Finance Watch was “born” at its first AGM, on a hot Brussels afternoon last summer.

The one-year-old public interest association has since become a regular at Brussels regulatory events and was flattered to be described recently as “influential” by the Financial Times.

Operating as an independently funded, non-party political, non-profit NGO with the mission to make finance serve society, Finance Watch’s membership has grown to 66, including more than 40 trade unions, consumer groups, NGOs and other civil society organisations, together representing many millions of citizens. It has more than 5000 registered Friends and a permanent staff of seven, soon to be 12.

The first year has shown that combining the advocacy skills of Finance Watch’s civil society Members with the technical expertise of its staff can be highly effective.

Finance Watch’s staff, most of whom have financial industry backgrounds, have so far published six technical consultation responses and position papers covering bank capital (CRD4 / Basel III)shadow bankingbank structure (Liikanen)financial markets (MiFID)short selling and uncovered CDScredit ratings agencies (CRA3)and a seventh on retail investment products (PRIPs) coming soon. Finance Watch’s Members have used these as technical ammunition for their work on financial reform.

Finance Watch’s staff also does direct advocacy. The team has held more than a hundred meetings with policymakers, given evidence to six formal parliamentary hearings in Brussels, Paris, London and Washington and spoken at dozens of public events.

It is too early to know the effect of all this on legislation, although we have seen a few improvements to legal texts after interventions from Finance Watch and its Members.  Unfortunately, due to resource constraints, Finance Watch has only been able to intervene in a handful of legislative dossiers.

The Members association was created as a counter-lobby to the small army of financial industry lobbyists (around 350 in Brussels) after MEPs became frustrated by the amount of private interest lobbying they were receiving, numbering dozens, sometimes hundreds, of industry responses on every legislative dossier.

Finance Watch symbolises the need to restore balance between public and private interests in financial reform. When policymakers are presented with both sides of the argument it is far harder for them to be “captured” by special interests.

The democratic process also benefits when the voting public understands how financial reforms improve the wellbeing of everyone. Finance Watch is helping by publishing cartoons and briefing materials but there is a lot more to be done.

Public support for Finance Watch’s mission is growing steadily, through our newsletters and social media presence. We have also received a lot of attention from academics and schools who see Finance Watch as an example of civil society in action.

Finance Watch is funded by grants from four philanthropic foundations (Adessium Foundation, Maecenata Stiftung, Fondation pour le Progrès de l’Homme and Novethic), donations from the general public and membership fees. It has also been granted around EUR 1m in “pilot funding” from the EU budget to help it get started.

The objective now is to build a regular source of donations from the general public that will help to fund the organisation beyond the “start-up ” phase and increase Finance Watch’s democratic voice. With Europe’s economy still suffering after the financial crisis, our goal is to work together – with you – to help the financial system become part of the solution.

To become a supporter of Finance Watch, visit http://finance-watch.org/make-a-donation.

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