A new case of revolving doors at the European Investment Bank (EIB) provides yet another example of the Bank’s lack of accountability and recurring risks of corporate capture.
It was revealed early March that former EIB Vice-President Emma Navarro joined the board of the Spanish multinational utility company Iberdrola*, less than 3 months after leaving the EIB.
The news received media coverage in the Spanish outlet “El Confidencial” and raised concerns within the European Parliament, with several Green parliamentarians sending a letter to the EIB president denouncing this move.
Revolving doors (high ranking decision-makers moving into industry or corporate lobby) are unfortunately a common issue in EU institutions, and the EIB is not immune to this phenomenon.
Emma Navarro, who left the EIB Management Committee in November 2020, has been in charge of overseeing the EIB’s lending in Spain, including to Iberdrola. Since the last decade, Spain has been one of the largest recipients of EIB funding. Furthermore, from 2019 onward Iberdrola benefited from massive loans worth €1,39 billion EUR in total, making it one of the top clients of the EIB in recent years.
This includes €690 million in 2019 (see the EIB press release with Vice-President Navarro attending the signature ceremony), €600 million in 2020 (see again the EIB press release with Vice-President Navarro) and a €100 million loan signed in January 2021.
This clear conflict of interest also risks materialising in further capture of EIB funds, with Iberdrola likely benefitting from the contacts and experience that Navarro has been able to gain as Vice-President of the largest multilateral bank in the world.
Back in 2016, the European Ombudswoman already raised the issue of conflicts of interests in a letter sent to the EIB President. In particular, she stressed the need to reinforce the Codes of Conducts for the Directors of the EIB and its Management Committee.
5 years later, the case of Emma Navarro shows that the issue remains. Under the EU legal framework, the EIB is only bound by its internal regulations and Codes of Conducts. For its Management Committee (namely the President and Vice-Presidents of the EIB), the code of conduct revised in 2019 proposes a 12 months cooling off period.
The EIB Ethics and Compliance Committee (ECC) is however able to consider cases that are below this threshold, which is already low, with potential terms and conditions:
“Whenever a former member of the Management Committee intends to engage in an official or professional position or occupation during the twelve months after they have ceased to hold office, they shall inform the ECC in good time and seek the ECC’s general or specific approval. The ECC may impose terms and conditions in relation to the pursuit of any such activity and may revoke at any time its authorisation in connection with such activity. During the twelve months after ceasing to hold office, former members of the Management Committee shall not lobby with members of EIB governing bodies and staff of the Bank for their business, client or employer on matters for which they have been responsible within their portfolio of activities as members of the Management Committee during their mandate”.
In this case, it appears that the ECC authorised the move of Emma Navarro to Iberdrola’s board. The justification for this decision and the terms and conditions imposed, if any, remain unknown to date.
As we highlighted in our 2019 report on fraud and corruption, this case also demonstrates a problematic practice at the EIB: the bank’s Vice Presidents are in charge of overseeing lending into their “home” countries. Given that EIB Vice-Presidents are nominated by the Member States, they are put in situations where they risk favouring well-connected companies and projects from their countries, whether consciously or unconsciously.
It is urgent for the EIB to raise the bar on integrity and strengthen its rules and their enforcement in order to prevent such conflicts of interests. There should be a longer cooling-off period for EIB Vice-Presidents once they leave the bank and the Ethics and Compliance Committee should apply the Code of Conduct much more rigorously.
Finally, the EIB should stop making its Vice-Presidents responsible for lending in their countries of origin, as previously demanded by the European Parliament. A request that has so far been refused by the EIB.
At a time when trust in institutions is eroding and citizens are becoming increasingly weary of constant revolving doors, the EIB needs to take the necessary actions to prevent such cases from happening again in the future. A bank with a public mission - and great potential to steer our economies and societies in a fairer and more sustainable direction - should not leave doors wide open to corporate capture.
*Despite increasing investments in renewable energy, it is worth noting that Iberdrola's core business remains fossil gas, making this conflict of interest even more problematic from a climate perspective.