How to get Commercial Banks on their Knees

Belene, German Banks wanting to finance Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Bulgaria

1. All started with a tip about German banks wanting to finance a nuclear power plant, and it became clear pretty quickly that it was about Belene in Bulgaria.

2. We got in touch with the colleagues from the Central and Eastern European Bankwatch Network (CEE)in Bulgaria. CEE is a network of NGOs that follow up the activities of international banks. We wanted to learn more about Belene, its status, problems, the local resistance, the status of financing. And as well to attain newspaper articles as sources for the rumours about German banks financing Belene. At this occasion we learned that whenever the Bulgarian energy minister of that time had had talks with banks he'd announced whoever he talked to was ready to finance Belene, while usually this was nothing more than first talks. 
It became clear at this point that the banks had not signed any contracts yet, which made campaigning against the banks quite attractive since we realised we might have a real chance of stopping the contracts from being signed.

3. The timing was good as well: we learned about all this in early March, while 2006 being the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl, a date that many groups in Germany used to raise awareness on the dangers of the use of nuclear power. German banks 
willing to finance an old nuclear power plant in an earthquake prone area in the year of the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl was therefore a perfect setting. We therefore chose "Who finances Belene risks another Chernobyl" as slogan, prepared a background flyer and postcards to the managers of Deutsche Bank and HypoVereinsBank. Commerzbank and Bayerische Landesbank were said to be interested as well, but we thought that Deutsche and HypoVereinsBank would be most important to have as targets (Deutsche because they are hated by everybody and very close to Siemens, and HypoVereinsBAnk because they hadn't financed nukes for quite some time). 
We distributed the campaign material at the many events taking place in Germany around the Chernobyl anniversary. There, people were happy about concrete possibilities to get active beyond the meeting/demonstration they attended.
For those who do not know it, I want to point out that Bayerische Landesbank is taking part in the financing of the Olkiluoto 3 reactor.

4. In mid April we did press work and held a press conference on Belene and German banks together with Greenpeace. The topic was taken up relatively well and at the evening of the press conference, the Bayerische Landesbank called to 
tell us that they had been named in the press but were not interested in the deal.

5. The next step was to visit shareholder meetings of E.ON, the German energy utility, that had announced interest as a strategic investor in Belene - and please note that E.ON is also a shareholder of Fennovoima in Finland - and of the banks: Commerzbank, HypoVereinsBank and Deutsche Bank. We had banners and leaflets outside which we gave to the shareholders, and went inside speaking on behalf of the critical shareholders and warning about the banks financing this kind of dangerous nuclear power plant that would never get a licence in Germany. At Commerzbank this led to the manager clearly stating that his bank would not finance a deal like this. 
On the other hand, at HypoVereinsBank it became very clear that the real power was now in Italy since the bank belongs to Unicredit and that the real decisions were to be taken in Milan.

6. In order to raise pressure we wanted to reach new interest groups. This led to us buying an expensive advert in an organic food magazine with extremely high distribution (several 100.000). Buying the advert helped us to get an article about Belene in the magazine, and the advert had a part were people could protest against the bank's managers. We got tons of responses and many people speaking out against the deal and wanting to do more.

7. Given that we realised the importance of Italy for the HypoVereinsBank decision and the fact that the Unicredit group is quite important in Eastern Europe, we planned an international day of action against the different Unicredit branches in many countries together with CEE Bankwatch, Greenpeace, CRBM (Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale), FoE, Global 2000 and others. 
This action day took place on the 13th of October 2006 with protest actions in around 14 countries and 8 more countries where protest letters were sent to Unicredit branches of the country. In Italy Greenpeace did an action that apparently directly caught the attention of the Unicredit manager Profumo who only then realised that the deal might actually be a bad idea. For HypoVereinsBank stepping out of the deal this was apparently quite important.

8. Meanwhile we had called in Germany for a week of action against the two banks involved. Many people reacted to this and where interested in getting the action kit: leaflet, anti-nukes sweets, poster, sticker. We got people in 60 towns wanting to do something in front of their bank. We did put every new town on our website. 3 days before the action week Deutsche Bank sent a letter that they withdrew from the deal. 
We immediately told this to HypoVereinsBank who withdrew a day later. With all the people interested in doing actions, rather than calling the action week off we told people to still go to the banks, congratulate the bank manager for the wise decision of their management and tell them to draw the right lessons from the deal: say no from the beginning next time.

9. Many other banks that had been approached said as well that they didn't want to finance Belene. In May 2007 it was rumoured that BNP Paribas wanted to arrange a deal. FoE France together with Greenpeace started a big cyberaction and protests. Another international day of protests was pulled together. The BNP Paribas manager met with several NGOs. He promised to publish the list of banks they put together, which he never did. BNP Paribas said that they were only financing infrastructure around the nuclear power plant, not the nuclear power plant itself....

10. Bulgaria wants money from Euratom and announced the wish to build Belene to the Commission which was supposed to express an opinion in September but it recently looks like they won't come up before December with an opinion, since in Belene a new Russian nuclear power plant type is going to be built within the Union and the Commission wants to be thorough in its assessment.

11. Since after we "finished" with the German banks, Bulgaria is in difficulties for getting the funding. They try to get some more money by finding investors. Among the companies interested are RWE and E.ON from Germany. This made us look into their investment interests - including Finland - and lead us to campaigning against them and campaigning for people to change their energy suppliers to "green" ones.

Regine Richter
urgewald Büro Berlin
Prenzlauer Allee 230
10405 Berlin

Fon: 49+30+44339169
Fax: 49+30+44339133

Päivitetty 25.10.2007