For the first time, Counter Balance managed to access the minutes of a meeting of the Board of Directors of the European Investment Bank, the EU’s house bank. As a matter of public interest, we are publishing those minutes here: EIB Board of Directors Meeting Feb 2015.
The EIB directors, representing the shareholders of the bank, meet 10 times a year in Luxembourg to adopt the EIB policies and approve projects worth EUR 70 bn a year. At every meeting, therefore, they approve on average projects amounting to around EUR 7 bn.
All the more striking is that this happens behind closed doors. At the moment, the EIB is only publishing on its website a rough agenda of the upcoming meetings, and then within 10 working days after the meetings it provides the public with a rough summary of the decisions taken, along with the list of conflicts of interest declared by the participants with respect to the projects to be financed. See here an example of this standard disclosure practice for the Board of Directors meeting held in December 2015.
The Board of Directors is a key governing body of the European Investment Bank. It takes decisions in respect to loans, guarantees and borrowings, ensures that the Bank is properly run and managed in line with the provisions of the EU Treaties and its statutes. The Board of Directors consists of 29 Directors, with one Director nominated by each Member State and one by the European Commission.
But, unlike the European Central Bank – which is not exactly known as the most democratic institution in Europe – the EIB is not disclosing the minutes of those meetings where key decisions are taken.
Hence, following the adoption of a controversial Transparency Policy by the bank in February 2015 (see our critical analysis here), Counter Balance requested the bank to disclose the full minutes of this meeting. The initial idea was to understand why the EIB directors accepted to approve a weakened policy leading to a setback in terms of transparency.
After the disclosure of minutes with many elements redacted, the EIB finally disclosed a quite advanced version of the minutes of the meeting: see here.
It provides an elaborate summary of the discussions that took place between the EIB Directors, and the full list of projects they approved. Among elements of interest, it is worth noting the following ones:
- In relation to the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), the minutes provide a picture of what the EIB vision for the governance of the fund was in February 2015, when negotiations between various EU institutions were still ongoing about the set-up of the fund. It confirms the EIB’s willingness to keep its own governance structure untouched (“protecting the integrity of the ElB ’s status and role in the governance of EFSI“), and rather give a limited role to the EFSI governing bodies, especially the Investment Committee: “the scope of the Investment Committee would be solely to determine eligibility for the EU budget guarantee“.
The minutes also clarify that the “list of projects identified by the Task Force was neither closed nor exhaustive. Some projects could not be pursued for good reasons, including technical, economic or sustainability issues, whereas other projects not on the list would be suitable for financing under EFSI“. This seconds our initial reading that putting together this list of thousands of projects, including unviable ones, was rather a public messaging exercise than a sound technical initiative.
- On the adoption of the EIB transparency policy, the minutes confirm our analysis: there were tensions within the bank on the need to achieve openness and transparency whilst also protecting sensitive information, particularly from the Bank’s clients, from disclosure. This resulted in the policy not being adopted during the meeting, but rather approved by written procedure once the policy had been fine-tuned to include elements discussed during the meeting, especially on the sensitive issue of the disclosure of internal investigations.
Nevertheless, several points are still redacted because the bank argues that the disclosure of certain information would undermine the protection of the financial policy and commercial interests of the Bank. Such justification of business confidentiality is currently enshrined into the EIB transparency policy which guides its practices in terms of information disclosure and access to documents.
It is the first time that such minutes are disclosed to the public. What needs to come next is a commitment by the bank to make such disclosure a standard practice and publish such information on its website. This way, every citizen will have the chance to understand how decisions about projects impacting territories and people in Europe are made.