The EBRD's board of directors is expected, on the eve of the bank's annual meeting in Warsaw, to approve new 'good governance' policies that will have significant bearing on the institution's future activities. The EBRD's Environmental and Social Policy, its Public Information Policy and the Rules of Procedure for the EBRD Project Complaints Mechanism have been the feature of multi-stakeholder consultations across the EBRD's regions of operation in 2013 and into 2014.
Campaigners maintain that while the process attached to these public consultations was of a very good standard, several important deficiencies were witnessed, and, at the time of Bankwatch Mail going to press, it remains unclear how the consultations have ultimately affected the shaping of the new policies.
The policy revision consultations ticked almost all the required boxes: a two stage commenting process (on the old policies and on draft texts of the updated policies), a meeting between the EBRD's vice-president and leading civil society networks, six consultation meetings across the EBRD's countries of operation and one in London (all with staff), some financial support for participants to take part in these meetings, and independent facilitation of the meetings by the Regional Environmental Center. However, some concerns that have cropped up in recent months should be noted.
CSO and shareholder dialogue limited
A chief concern with this most recent policy revision process has been the weak state of dialogue between civil society organisations (CSOs) and EBRD shareholders. In recent years CSOs have increasingly sought to engage with shareholders through more requests for meetings with bank directors (outside of the traditional annual meeting CSO programme), and increased advocacy in the capitals of European countries aimed at financial ministries.
Yet with the 'good governance' policy consultation, the elaborate process, involving half a dozen meetings with staff and tight commenting deadlines, was little more than a distraction from talking to the real decision-makers. Bankwatch learned of only one EBRD shareholder country – Switzerland – that invited CSOs to contribute to its position at a workshop on March 6. The US Treasury department did release its position early on in the process, but was consequently open to hearing recommendations from CSOs. Other shareholders were approached, but these advocacy attempts could not be characterised as dialogue in any real or productive sense.
The most puzzling of all the various positions held by EBRD shareholders is that of the European Commission. To date Bankwatch has received from the Directorate General for Environment in Brussels a five bullet point summary of its comments to the EBRD policy reviews. A request for DG Environment's full input is still being processed, and meanwhile Bankwatch has been encouraged to officially request the inputs of all other relevant directorate generals.
It remains unknown whether or not the European Commission submitted a common position, synchronising recommendations from various directorate generals. In view of the fact that the position of EU director on the EBRD board remains vacant, the lack of engagement from the Commission, and certainly the lack of transparency, beggars belief.
Limitations to freedom of expression in the Former Soviet Union states needs attention
The second area of concern concerns the consultation input coming from non-EU countries. When the Stakeholder Engagement Report is published it will be interesting to consider and assess the engagement of non-EU groups.
The consultation meetings held in Casablanca, Kiev, Tbilisi, Moscow and Almaty would seem to have been well attended. Understandably, the first one in Casablanca attracted significant attention, with more than 40 participants. Yet the meeting was felt by many to have ended up being more of an awareness raising and outreach exercise for the EBRD's new Middle East and North Africa region rather than an actual policy consultation.
A key issue hanging over the Former Soviet Union meetings, resulting from the ongoing undermining of basic rights still very familiar to the region, was the multi-stakeholder format itself, where CSOs and representatives of state institutions were sitting together. The multi-stakeholder format by definition is welcome, however it is perhaps not best suited for use in countries where CSOs feel intimidated to speak up openly in front of state officials.
As Bankwatch has previously suggested, the format used in EBRD annual meetings – where some sessions are CSO-only and others are open to all stakeholders – would be more appropriate in certain circumstances. Additionally, in countries where collaboration with foreign partners can be used to brand CSOs as 'foreign agents', it should come as no surprise that consultation inputs are limited, and thus future innovative approaches may be needed if genuine input is to be solicited and such processes are to set an example for democratic, participatory policy dialogue.
Finally, gathering together civil society, state institutions and business into one big 'stakeholders' group does not especially make for a level playing field for the most under-represented of the three groups – civil society. Businesses, clearly, have a lot more avenues available for the conveying of policy demands to the EBRD – for example, in the day-to-day implementation of these policies in EBRD-financed projects, or during the host of business forums that take place every week of the year.
The first round of the consultations indeed produced extremely disappointing, lacklustre policy drafts, so we are bracing ourselves for the final outcomes due this month.
One ray of hope has appeared in a recent email communication from the EBRD' CSO unit to Accountability Counsel, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Article 19, CIEL and Bankwatch:
“Many of the issues that were raised during consultation have been accommodated in the final policies that the Board will consider for approval on 7 May ... We think the policies have been significantly improved due to the extensive consultation process.”
The essence of good governance is not only inviting wide participation but also incorporating valid public inputs into modern, progressive policy formulations. An improved policy review process is encouraging, and broadly positive. It would be remarkable and worrying if, at the end of the day, such a process brings into being degraded policies.
Bankwatch's final round of comments to the drafts of the EBRD's good governance policies, submitted in March, are available here.