European Bishops call for a more caring financial system

The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union publishes a Reflection Paper on financial ethics in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis

By Lisa Zengarini

European bishops are calling on EU institutions and economic actors to focus their financial activities on the principle of ‘care’, rather than profitability, so as to contribute “to the dynamic of building together the common good”.

The call was made in a Reflection Paper issued this week by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) entitled “A Financial System serving the Common Good in times of Systemic Change”.

The aim of the document

The 10-page document was drafted by the ad-hoc COMECE Working Group on Financial Ethics, chaired by Prof. Paul Dembinski – director of the Observatoire de la Finance in Geneva, Switzerland. Its aim is to stimulate a debate at the European level on promoting change within the financial sector to reduce the negative effects of the social tensions and of the climate crisis, which are increasing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A Christian perspective

“Our call is addressed to EU institutions, its member States, industrial and service companies, universities and citizens”, COMECE General Secretary, Father Manuel Barrios Prieto stated. “In the Christian perspective, the common good is the measure to evaluate our financial endeavors. We are urging to put care at the centre of these endeavors”.

Aiming for the common good

The Paper examines a selection of policy and personal dilemmas in the field of economy and finance in light of the principles of Christian Social Teaching, in order to help the concerned actors make choices that are better informed, and decisions aimed at the common good.

According to COMECE, the complex challenges facing the EU today, which the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated, require action, although “prudent action”.

Need for new rules

The document highlights the need for new rules and regulations to make the present economic and financial system “more human and more inclusive”. These new rules “must be designed with prudence and justice, with adequate listening to all stakeholders” starting from the weakest of them, it says. 

Ethical finance 

The paper also deals with the ethical aspect of credit, debt and interest and the prevention of over-indebtedness. According to COMECE, banking and financial markets should pay greater attention to the weakest among their stakeholders according to the notion of ‘care’, which is a call to go beyond an efficient market transaction based on equivalence, to care for the partner, the client, the supplier, the environment, the local community. Behaviours – it says – must change at individual and at enterprise levels. Also, the important question of how to use savings is raised and is accompanied by a call for a deeper and more evenly distributed financial literacy. Finally,  the paper reaffirms the validity of the ESG criteria (Environment, Social and Corporate Governance), which should guide responsible investment, though it says some major hurdles need to be clarified.

A public event will be held by COMECE in early 2022, together with EU and Church representatives, to discuss the implementation of the recommendations at the European level.