ECB staff push back against 'authoritarian' climate views

A makeshift globe burns in front of the ECB in Frankfurt, Germany, as activists protest against the bank's climate policy, Oct. 21, 2020.
A makeshift globe burns in front of the ECB in Frankfurt, Germany, as activists protest against the bank's climate policy, Oct. 21, 2020. Copyright Michael Probst/AP.
Copyright Michael Probst/AP.
By Eleanor Butler
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Aggrieved employees claim the organisation's green stance undermines principles of diversity and inclusion.


The European Central Bank's staff committee has criticised a member of the European Central Bank's (ECB) executive board for "disrespectful" comments made last month.

Dutch lawyer Frank Elderson provoked backlash when he said at an internal meeting in February: "Why would we want to hire people, whom we have to reprogramme because they came from the best universities, but they still don't know how to spell the word 'climate'."

In a letter first reported on by the Financial Times, ECB staff complained that Elderson's position on climate change threatened the principle of free thought.

The letter, shared with ECB staff on Monday, reportedly said: "The idea of 'reprogramming' people is very much in contradiction to diversity and inclusion, specifically diversity of thoughts, and concerning beyond those aspects. It has an undeniable authoritarian note and is in direct contradiction to the democratic values the ECB and the European Union stand for."

It continued: "We would encourage the executive board to reflect on their leadership style and to acknowledge that people in democratic societies shall not be 'reprogrammed' but convinced by reasoning and facts and leading by example."

In response to the document, the bank has defended Elderson, claiming that he is "a staunch supporter" of diversity.

"His message that climate science should be considered in the ECB's work directly reflects the bank's strategy," said a spokesperson.

When ECB President Christine Lagarde was asked about the matter by MEPs last month, she explained: "While I completely support all my colleagues, including the one you referred to, I realise sometimes words can go a little bit beyond the passion that underlines what they express."

Concerning Mr Elderson's comments, the European Parliament asked the ECB last week to open an investigation into ideological bias.

The disgruntled letter feeds into a growing sense of frustration regarding Lagarde's leadership.

In late January, 50.6% of ECB staff responding to a trade union survey said that Lagarde's performance in the first half of her term was "poor" or "very poor".

Only 38% supported the fiscal strategy taken under the president's watch, although the majority approved of her decision to make climate change a priority for the ECB.

The bank is increasingly assessing the climate impact of its investments, claiming that financial stability can only be maintained if the planet is protected.

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