What do the environmentalist cities of Lyon, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Strasbourg, Besançon and Nantes have in common (whose mayor, Johanna Rolland, is a socialist, but where the Greens are part of the municipal majority)? Their creditor. In 2021, these six green metropolises have all taken out a loan from an “ethical” bank, the New Fraternal Economy (Nef). The amounts, between 2 and 4 million euros depending on the case, can rise up to 8 million when the city and the metropolis have each concluded a deal.
On paper, the Nef defends “healthy and transparent” management. Namely “only finance projects with ecological, social or cultural added value”, and this by making public the investments made thanks to the money entrusted by savers of all kinds. Work in hospitals, development of social housing, renovation of schools, creation of organic stores… In total, the bank has financed no less than 7,000 projects since its creation in 1988, and counts among its clients the Veja brand, Biocoop, or the NGO Action Against Hunger. Have green cities found their golden goose?
“Disarm our adversaries”
This look of a model student of finance 2.0 hides many gray areas made almost imperceptible since the implementation of an astonishing “specific action plan in three stages”: “defense, which consists of disarming [ses] adversaries”; “the attack”, via legal proceedings; and “the assertion of identity”, we can read in the classified minutes of the Supervisory Board (CS) of the Nef, meeting on January 25, 2023, and which L’Express was able to consult. Objective: to contain the “reputational risk linked to anthroposophy”, a movement whose founders claimed responsibility in the 1980s.
Anthroposophy is a spiritual and philosophical doctrine invented by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner. A potpourri of notions borrowed from Indian religions, Christianity and, more recently, the New Age, it extends its precepts to many areas, such as health, agriculture (via biodynamics), pedagogy, and even cosmetics. (with the Weleda brand). Under the guise of a return to nature, it is nothing less than a pseudoscience whose ramifications come close to occultism. The risks of sectarian deviations are also regularly pointed out, particularly concerning anthroposophical medicine (which considers illness through the prism of “karma” and can recommend mistletoe to cure cancer) and the Steiner-Waldorf schools, which apply the educational principles of Rudolf Steiner, are regularly singled out by the Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Abuses (Miviludes) for “indoctrination practices”, “sectarian logic”, or even “a will on the part of the staff supervisor to keep children away from their parents in order to be able to better control them.
The stakes, in a context of development of the Nave, are therefore significant. Among the “adversaries” targeted by the “action plan”, described as “targets” in the document, are the press and Miviludes. It is the latter which, in its 2021 annual report, pointed out “the preponderant influence [du mouvement anthroposophe] on certain ‘ethical’ banking establishments with extremely significant financial power, such as Triodos, GLS or, in France, the New Fraternal Economy (Nef)”.
On its site, the company formally denies: “La Nef is not anthroposophical.” As proof: in 2019, the company stopped funding Steiner-Waldorf schools! Sincere backpedaling or strategic calculation? “It is appropriate to continue this suspension [des financements] as long as they continue to be highlighted in the Miviludes report. This decision is painful and we are well placed to know that the Miviludes reports must be subject to doubt”, details the minutes of the Nef CS meeting of January 25.
To improve its image, the bank has also discreetly separated from two of the organizations to which savers can pay their interests: the Germes fund and Biodynamie Research, two structures strongly imbued with anthroposophical doctrine. “We must withdraw them from the beneficiaries. The amounts are minimal and the decision here too is painful for the targeted organizations, but falls within our essential protection,” details the minutes.
As for the Nef supervisory board, it also suddenly got a facelift. On January 25, 2023 (i.e. the day its members met), Matthieu Brunet, also chairman of the board of directors of the company Arcadie – which promotes biodynamics, a set of agricultural practices imagined by… Rudolf Steiner –, resigned from his mandate vice-president of the CS. Term of office which was to expire in May 2026.
Less than two months later, Patrick Sirdey resigned from the supervisory board. Former boss of the Weleda group – a Swiss company founded by Rudolf Steiner himself – he is also a director of the Lamaro endowment fund (according to the Nef 2021 annual report). The purpose of this fund? “Supporting Anthroposophical Medicine.” Patrick Sirdey’s mandate was to expire in May 2024. In its annual report, Nef attributes the “resignation” of two of the members of its supervisory board to “reasons of health, lack of availability or limit of age”.
“Anthroposophy is in the DNA of the Nef,” annoys Grégoire Perra, a former anthroposophist who has become the main opponent of this movement in France. According to him, these changes decided by the supervisory board are “a cover-up aimed simply at making people believe that they have no longer had a link with anthroposophy for a long time. And thus discrediting the work of Miviludes”. On its site, the Nef nevertheless assures that “from [qu’elle] began to develop, […] partners and new members from environmental movements and the social and solidarity economy have joined the cooperative in very large numbers. It is with these people who have become the majority – and have been for many years – that the Nef’s own identity was formed.
“Many years ago”, in fact, Nathalie* was one of the Nef employees in the 2010s. “I was a thousand miles from imagining where I had just set foot,” she recalls. . When I arrived, they gave me a small booklet on the subject of anthroposophy. We agreed to finance numerous projects whose links with this movement were obvious. But that shocked no one, it was the philosophy of the company and we knew it!”
“A connection between certain ecologists and the anthroposophical environment”
In reality, there is no need to go back in time too far… Jean-Pierre Caron, for example, is on the supervisory board. The latter is the author of a self-published work entitled Spirituality and business, “bringing together nearly 150 brief contributions (or ‘syllabus’) relating to the spiritual aspects present in the development approach resulting from anthroposophy and developed by Bernard Lievegoed”. This consultant in “development of people and organizations” was also due to give a conference to the Anthroposophical Society of France in 2021 (ultimately canceled).
The Nef’s pedigree, however, does not seem to have frightened the six environmentalist towns that have taken out loans from it. Starting with the Strasbourg Eurometropolis (4 million euros). “There is a connection between some ecologists and the anthroposophical community, which carries out its offensives in the four corners of France thanks to its ecological veneer. When certain large cities came under an ecological mandate in 2020, this opened up a new avenue for the Nef royal road”, explains Pernelle Richardot, municipal councilor of Strasbourg. Last July, the elected socialist was already indignant to L’Express at the fact that the municipality of Strasbourg, led by the ecologist Jeanne Barseghian, continued to subsidize the kindergarten of the Steiner school in the city in amounting to 12,000 euros.
Among the cities concerned contacted by L’Express, only the municipality of Besançon – which took out a loan of 2 million euros in 2021 – followed up. “The Nef is only cited once in the Miviludes report. And the last funding of Steiner schools by this establishment dates back to 2019, it is explained. Certainly, the Nef has historical links with anthroposophy , but they have diminished over time. Today, the Nef makes it possible to finance ecological transition operations for which other partners would not take the risk.” The city explains that it chose the Nef to carry out one of its loans because of its “financial offer”, but also “criteria” such as financial transparency, environmental and climate actions or in terms of social responsibility…
When questioned, the Nef referred L’Express to its website, which devotes a page to the subject, entitled “What are the links between the Nef and anthroposophy”. This had been updated an hour ago. Until now, the Nef acknowledged having “been founded by citizens inspired by Rudolf Steiner, the founding theoretician of the anthroposophical movement”. After updating, it is now about “citizens who wanted to put humans back at the center of all economic and financial mechanisms”. An “alternative” vision of the economy [qui] is found in the social aspect of the writings of Rudolf Steiner, founding theoretician of the anthroposophical movement which inspired certain banks and the founders of the Nef”.
In the previous version, the Nef also wrote that “a previous report from Miviludes [avait] already led to defamatory remarks more than twenty years ago”, citing a report published in 1999 by the parliamentary commission of inquiry into sects. The mention no longer appears in this new version, castigating the “sorrowful spirits [qui] reactivate old accusations”. Just like the assertion that “the Nef has never been condemned for sectarian drift”. “100% transparent”?
* The first name has been changed.