EU finance chiefs slam footballer's call to empty bank accounts

07.12.10 @ 09:27

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - Europe's top economy chiefs have criticised the call by former footballer Eric Cantona for citizens to empty their bank accounts on Tuesday (7 December) as a sign of protest against the financial institutions.

  • Eric Cantona in 1989. Today he's showing the finger to the banks (Photo: r9M)

Speaking after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday evening, the group's chairman, Luxembourgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, slammed the initiative as reckless.

"I have various feelings towards the financial sector, but I find the operation you are referring to totally irresponsible," Mr Juncker said in response to a journalist's question.

"Even if he has good reasons to start up an initiative, [he] should not mislead simple people who do not have the finances he has," added the eurogroup chief whose currency club has looked in danger of breaking apart in recent months.

Despite criticism from some quarters, the former football star's call two months ago for a bloodless "revolution" against banks has been echoed by numerous voices across Europe, with French Green MEP Pascal Canfin on Monday setting up a site entitled 'I change my bank.'

The website [www.jechangedebanque.org] explains how to change a bank account and provides a list of banks considered to be "ethical and responsible."

Mr Canfin, a member of the European Parliament's important economic affairs committee, was the recent author of a report on short-selling and the use of credit default swaps.

But the euro deputy's bank website also appeared to meet with Mr Juncker's disapproval. "Since the initiative seems to have been taken up by an MEP, I would recommend to all the footballers of the world to change their deputy," he joked.

EU economy commissioner Olli Rehn, an avid football fan and former club player, was also critical of Mr Cantona's appeal.

"I think that Mr Cantona is really a better footballer than an economist," he told the news conference.

Whether French citizens and those in other countries will respond to Mr Cantona's call will become clearer later on Tuesday. Currently an actor, the former Manchester United star first made his appeal for depositors to withdraw their funds in an interview with the newspaper Presse Ocean in Nantes in October.

Strikes and demonstrations against an overhaul of France's pension system by the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy where in full flow at the time.

"Demonstrating in the street, what does that do?" Mr Cantona asked in the interview. "What's the system? The system revolves around the banks, so it can be destroyed via the banks."

"The three million people on the streets with their placards, they go to the bank, they take out their money, and the banks collapse," he added. "That would be a real revolution. The system would collapse, no weapons, no blood, nothing."

The star's idea quickly went viral on the internet, with numerous social media campaigns expanding on his call.

Banks themselves have been deeply unamused by the development however, while many analysts were also sceptical.

"Does he really understand what the only alternative to capitalism actually is, I wonder?" Howard Wheeldon, a senior strategist at BGC Partners, a London brokerage firm, told the New York Times.

"Clearly he needs serious help - at the very least to understand that to get through this crisis a strong and healthy banking sector is an absolute priority."

Mr Cantona's call for a 'revolution' against the banks has sent shivers down the eurozone leaders' spines.