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European CUs launch lobbying day
BRUSSELS, Belgium (12/9/10)--Credit unions from seven European countries got a taste of political lobbying--some for the first time--as World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) European Network of Credit Unions met with legislators at the European Parliament in Brussels Wednesday.
Click to view larger image Nearly 50 credit union representatives from eight countries met Wednesday in Brussels for the first "lobbying day" aimed at educating lawmakers in the European Parliament about the strength of credit unions.
Nearly 50 credit union and trade association professionals met with 30 European parliamentarians in multi-national delegations to spread the word about the services credit unions provide throughout the European Union (EU). The primary purpose of the visits was to introduce credit unions to parliament representatives unfamiliar with them and lay the groundwork for ensuring favorable legislation for credit unions. Participants from Estonia, Ireland, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and the U.S. discussed issues such as the global economic crisis and the growing need for deposit insurance among emerging movements with lawmakers. Even Latin America was represented, with WOCCU First Vice Chair Manuel Rabines, president/CEO of Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito del Perú, participating. "Lobbying day is an important way to raise awareness among legislators and show our uniqueness compared to other financial service providers," said WOCCU Second Vice Chair Grzegorz Bierecki, who led an eight-member delegation representing the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions, the Polish credit union trade group. Bierecki serves as president and CEO of the group. "Our efforts will create a positive view of credit unions." Most EU member countries have cooperative banks, but relatively few have credit unions. This can create recognition problems when it comes to exercising EU-wide legislation involving financial institutions, according to Marian Harkin, a parliamentarian representing Ireland and a credit union champion who welcomed the group. Effective lobbying efforts are critical to credit unions' continued growth and influence throughout the "Euro zone," Harkin said. "Credit unions are strong in just a small number of European countries, and that creates an issue when you are not a force in a particular state," Harkin explained. "Credit unions need to create networks of alliances with other cooperatives or similar institutions throughout the EU to expand their message to a wider audience."
Click to view larger image Fiona Cullen, head of lobbying for the Irish League of Credit Unions, makes a point to Pat "the Cope" Gallagher, who represents Ireland in the European Parliament. (Photos provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)/td>
Fiona Cullen, head of legal and lobbying activities for the Irish League of Credit Unions and part of a six-member Irish delegation to Brussels, agreed. "It's a process of education," Cullen said. "We don't have anything specific today that we're lobbying for. Our process is simply to open doors." Although WOCCU helped form the European Network in 2009, it has helped its European members lobby on their own behalves for the past five years. For lobbying novices like Efim Lupanciuc, general director of Moldova's Central Association of Savings and Credit Associations, WOCCU's experience will be an effective force in helping with the emergence and regulation of Moldova's credit unions. "We want the European Parliament to keep in mind that we are Europe-oriented and at the very beginning of our efforts," said Lupanciuc, from one of the newest credit union movements in a country on the cusp of joining the EU. "As credit unions, we want to be part of the global movement and up to the standards of other WOCCU members."
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