Elected government representatives, whether in Europe or elsewhere, appear to have a hard time - or possibly even little interest - in keeping financial markets in check, but a small NGO has set out to change that.
From a small office across the street from the European Parliament in Brussels, six staff members at the independent, non-governmental organization, Finance Watch, keep a close and critical eye on financial markets and the people who move them.
The team spends much of its time thinking about how to get market players - banks, insurance companies and hedge funds - to commit themselves to doing the types of work they were intended to do.
"We need banks to supply money to the economy," Finance Watch General Secretary Thierry Philipponat said. "What we do not need are banks that bet on anything that moves."
To achieve its goals, Finance Watch does lobby and consulting work to show decision-makers how financial markets could be controlled. The NGO's main targets are the banks and insurers, which have spent decades influencing policy makers and have succeeded to a large extent in deregulating their businesses.
Sven Giegold thinks lobbies are "too one-sided"
Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament for the Green party and part of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, is among the co-founders of Finance Watch. Like many of his colleagues, he said he was tired of only hearing one side of the argument when the committee he serves on discussed regulating financial markets. Lobbies are not necessarily objectionable, he told DW, but there needs to be balance. "It's the one-sidedness of lobbies that is the actual problem," he added.
Independent organizations should be responsible for creating this balance - organizations that are funded neither by financial institutes, nor political parties. That was the reason Finance Watch started its life in June 2011 as a non-governmental organization funded by donations. Giegold said it is probably the first cross-party NGO to be founded by members of a parliament.
Journalist and finance expert Werner Rügemer said he welcomes the presence of an autonomous body representing private interests in the fields of economic and financial policy. "The most important issue is being independent of the financial industry and its influence on policy, especially in Brussels," he told DW.
Limiting global players' power
Rügemer said the mere existence of a group like Finance Watch serves to balance the power of financial institutes and limit the influence of lobby groups and financial industry itself.
Giegold said that was one of Finance Watch's goals. The group submitted its own recommendations for regulation of ratings agencies and tried "to weaken the power of rating agencies when it comes to financial market legislation." The NGO also made suggestions on how market structures could be changed and developed a model to prevent speculation in food.
Europe's slow road
He claims that over the past year he has seen changes in the positions taken by European political leaders that he said can be attributed to Finance Watch's efforts.
"The atmosphere at many of our meetings has changed," Giegold said, adding that now "positions are taken that you would not have heard before."
Since it takes the average European law about two years to make its way through the halls of power, Giegold said he is neither surprised nor concerned that few people outside of Brussels are familiar with Finance Watch's work.
Rügemer said parliaments across Europe would benefit from input by national, independent financial consultant organizations, like Finance Watch. Such groups would have to be able to enact real change outside of parliaments as well, he said, adding that "pressure from the streets" was lacking in European economic and financial decision-making and that governments wouldn not promote change until they feel pressure at home. "Finance Watch's recommendations then would have a greater effect," he said.
With the world talking about how markets operate best, Giegold said citizens - not only parliamentarians - need to get involved in determining how much regulation is enough. Finance Watch's success, he added, "depends on how much the public supports its ideas."
Author: Dirk Kaufmann / sms
Editor: Gregg Benzow