Counter Balance, the NGO coalition that monitors the European Investment Bank, welcomes today’s European Parliament (EP) resolution on the EIB, especially its recommendations on closer supervision, greater transparency and access to information.

Counter Balance concurs with many of the recommendations of the EP, notably:

• Strengthening the Audit Committee “to ensure the EIB is soon brought under proper banking supervision;”
• A request for more information in the EIB’s annual report to the EP on the results of projects financed, not merely financial data;
• The request that EIB “clearly specify the conditions for non-disclosure of information” about projects it supports, to avoid the catch-all ‘commercial confidentiality’ excuse EIB often deploys to avoid awkward questions;
“Concern about the lack of transparency regarding the way ‘global loans’ are allocated and monitored in terms of tax avoidance;”
• Requiring the EIB “better to monitor and make more transparent the nature and final destination of its global loans in support of SMEs.” [1]

Counter Balance urges the European Commission and Council to take onboard the recommendations of the European Parliament, the only democratically elected institution, in defining the future role of the EIB’s external lending.

Support to the private sector via financial intermediaries – the so-called 'global loans' of the EIB – remains one of the main concerns of the NGO coalition; with loans to financial intermediaries (FIs) going up by 42% in 2008 and projected to grow another 50% over the next two years, there is little evidence that money is getting to the small businesses for which it is intended, in particular in the context of the crisis. As a UK analyst puts it:

Whilst EIB finance may be available to nearly 3,000 small businesses, the funds are only accessible via traditional banks, which continue to set vigorous criteria and credit scoring to businesses seeking financial support and will not necessarily lend to smaller firms. [2]

As emerged in today’s Parliamentary debate, in the face of the dramatic Greek financial crisis and controversial austerity measures arranged by the European Union in the bail-out package, Counter Balance believes there is an urgent need to rethink the goals and practices of European public finance of which the EIB is a major instrument. It is evident that private banks and other financial institutions, constantly benefiting from EU and EIB support, have main responsibilities in the Greek crisis. Furthermore, the obsession for private sector development at any cost – as enshrined in EIB mandate – against support for public interest policies, has led to a systemic 'corporate welfare' which did not benefit the real economy and ordinary citizens, by triggering deeper and longer economic and social crises.

Counter Balance analyst Anders Lustgarten said, “Most of developing countries have lived a Greek crisis type for decades, also because of the obsession of public financial institutions, such as the EIB, to critically support private financial sector expansion at any cost. Today the financial crisis is finally transforming also Southern Europe into developing countries, and this tells us that the mantra of corporate welfare should come to an end. The time has come to question the role of the EIB both within and outside the EU and its business model and ultimate goals. It is a matter of people first, before profit and private sector development”.

Notes for editors:

[1] Full procedure and texts on the motion for resolution on the European Investment Bank’s annual report for 2008 (2009/2166(INI)) available here

[2] EIB funding initiative not revolutionary, Feb 19 2010