The European Union’s Bank is proposing changes to its rules on information disclosure which would make it one of the most secretive financial institutions in the world, campaigners are warning.
The European Investment Bank’s (EIB) shareholders are the member states of the European Union and its board of governors includes EU ministers such as UK Chancellor George Osborne and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.
Yet the Bank is little-known to European citizens, despite its size – in 2013 alone, it lent 75.1 billion Euros to projects within and beyond Europe.
Now the EIB is proposing to change its ‘transparency policy’ in a lurch towards secrecy that will leave the public even more in the dark about its loans to projects including motorways, pipelines and power stations.
Xavier Sol, Director of Counter Balance, an organisation which challenges public investment banks, said: “If the Bank goes ahead with its proposed changes, then it will become one of the most secretive financial institutions in the world, more capable than ever of hiding how it is affecting people’s lives and the environment across the world.
“That is an alarming prospect in itself but it could also prompt other international financial institutions across the world to follow suit, which would make ordinary people even more powerless in the face of massive infrastructure projects. It would also send a worrying signal to other EU institutions facing transparency and democratisation challenges.”
According to the 2013 Aid Transparency Index, the EIB is already lagging behind other multilateral donor organisations in terms of transparency. The Index rated it as ‘poor’ – one rung above the worst rating of ‘very poor’, as part of an assessment and ranking of 60 donor organisations.
Joseph Stead, Christian Aid’s Senior Economic Justice Adviser, said: “The EIB’s record to date shows there is every reason to want to know more, not less, about its activities.
“We’re currently fighting with the Bank about its refusal to reveal its investigation into whether a Glencore-controlled mine evaded tax in Zambia. The Bank should not be hiding such information, which is of great public interest in Zambia as well as Europe.
“Depressingly, we have heard that this Zambian case is one of the reasons why the Bank is proposing to become more secretive. We urge the Bank’s top managers to think again and to embrace greater transparency."
The most worrying details of the Bank’s proposed changes to its transparency policy include an expansion of the reasons the Bank can give for refusing to reveal information and a new presumption that all documents about the Bank’s internal investigations, reports and audits may not be disclosed even if they concern matters of public interest.
The EIB is also proposing stronger protection for private companies, with the addition of a statement that ‘commercial interests can be protected even after the expiration of the confidentiality agreement’.
A new Counter Balance briefing lists the most worrying changes, find it here.
The Bank has invited comments on its proposals by 26th September 2014. Counter Balance is working with other organisations to persuade the EIB to rethink its plan and move towards greater transparency.
Notes to Editors:
- Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk
- Counter Balance is a European coalition of development and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on development finance and the international financial institutions, especially the European Investment Bank. For more information about our activities, visit http://www.counter-balance.org/