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Q&A: Reworking Finance to Serve People and the Environment

FLORENCE, May 21 2013 (IPS) - The wake of the global financial crisis, as many national governments in Europe cut back on services to citizens and used public money to rescue banks, taught many people a valuable lesson.

“Nowadays finance is an end in itself, to make money out of money, while it should be a tool to serve the economy and the people,” says Andrea Baranes, president of Fondazione Culturale Responsabilità Etica (the Cultural Foundation for Ethical Responsibility).

Andrea Baranes, president of Fondazione Culturale Responsabilità Etica. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Andrea Baranes, president of Fondazione Culturale Responsabilità Etica. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

“Finance lost its social role,” Baranes explains. “We need measures to change this route.”

The Cultural Foundation for Ethical Responsibility (FCRE, in Italian) is part of the Ethics Network Bank, a network of organisations that promote financial services and cultural, environmental and human protection.

FCRE is of the main partners of Terra Futura (Future Earth), a annual three-day forum and exhibition held in Florence where associations, institutions and citizens meet to exchange ideas and experiences on good practises in social, economic and environmental sustainability.

IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed Baranes on the opening day of the forum about the purpose of the forum and the alterative models it can offer to alleviate Europe’s economic crisis.

Q: As this is the tenth edition of Terra Futura, how do you evaluate this experience?

A: It was definitely a positive one. Over the years, the public, exhibitors and local institutions have become more aware of the importance of networking.

It does not make sense to reflect on the environment, jobs, rights and so on, as separate things, the way it does not make sense to talk about ethical finance without considering responsible tourism, fair trade and solidarity based purchasing groups.

But when you put all these things together, creating a network that deals with consumption, production, living and eating habits, you can build a truly alternative economic model that has been shown to work better than the traditional one, not only from social and environmental perspectives but from an economic one too.

"It does not make sense to reflect on the environment, jobs, rights and so on, as separate things."
-- Andrea Baranes

Q: This year Terra Futura is dedicated to the economic crisis and the effort to overcome it. In what direction is the European Union headed?

A: Unfortunately Europe nowadays means almost exclusively austerity, sacrifices and the like. Even worse, we see a Europe of the common currency, of the common markets, of the free movement of capital, but there is no social Europe.

From one side, we have the European Central Bank, with its monetary policies, but on the other there is no parliament, because the European Parliament has no regulatory authority.

Q: What are solutions can Terra Futura offer to these issues?

A: What we say here is that we need to act in two directions. One is top-down, by means of regulations, in order to close what we call “casinò finance” and to block tax havens.

We also need to act from the bottom-up, to promote virtuous models in the way we use our money. I truly believe that by putting together theoretical analysis and practise we can find real solutions.

Q: What are the priorities of the Ethics Network Bank in this economic phase?

A: Before the Italian elections, the Ethics Network Bank launched proposals under the name of “Let’s change finance to change Italy”. In these proposals we asked to reduce financial derivatives and increase transparency, close tax havens, and introduce a tax on financial transactions.

We also proposed measures to enhance ethical finance, like the revision of the Basel Accords, an international regulatory framework for banks, in order to prevent ethical banks and cooperatives from being penalised and to facilitate the service sector’s access to credit.

Q: Do other European countries have organisations similar to Ethics Network Bank?

A: There are many examples of ethical finance in Europe and in the world. The differences depend on the social context of the country.

The Netherlands, for instance, being a low-lying country, is concerned with climate change, and therefore to them ethical finance means investing in renewable energies and energy conservation.

In France, where trade unions are very strong, ethical finance corresponds to job creation. In Italy, it all started thanks to the initiative of grassroots associations and civil society, so Banca Etica has always been the bank of non-profits and social cooperatives.

They come from different models, and they are different organisations with different functions, but they all have essential elements in common: the importance of real economy, the attention towards social and environmental impacts and the rejection of speculation.

Q: On Saturday you will present the campaign “Con i miei soldi” (“With my money”). What is this campaign about?

A: Last year we launched “Non con i miei soldi” (“Not with my money”), which wanted to show how we often are not only victims but also accomplices of this crisis. The money in our bank accounts risks ending up in tax havens, in weapons or other polluting activities.

This year we wanted to be proactive and explain to people how, through ethical finance, their money can boost biological agriculture, fair trade, energy conservation, etc. That way, our little savings can eventually influence the choices made in the business world.

Q: Are you optimistic about the chances of Ethics Network Bank’s reflections and proposals being heard?

A: I have one main reason to be optimistic, which at the same time makes me angry. There are no technical challenges preventing the enforcement of our proposals. We know perfectly what needs to be done and how to do it.

What is missing is the political will. But we can change this, through campaigns and grassroots actions, just what we are trying to do here at Terra Futura.

 
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