On Tuesday 1 February 2022, the European Investment Bank (EIB) organised the annual seminar between its Board of Directors and civil society. It is the only forum where members of the EIB Board of Directors meet with external stakeholders.
As was the case last year, the EIB decided to hold the seminar online. It allowed an impressive number of more than 120 civil society representatives from all over the world to take part in the seminar. Such a broad outreach gave the Board Members access to a wealth of expertise and a diversity of views on key topics for the Bank.
Rising up to the challenges
The seminar was opened by EIB Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle. Underlining the Bank’s strong commitment to tackle the twin threats of the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, he highlighted last year’s achievements including a record level of financing, support to the global vaccination campaign, the launch of EIB Global and the rollout of the European Guarantee Fund. While the EIB is rising to these challenges at a fast pace, it cannot do it alone. Vice-President Fayolle reaffirmed the value of this seminar in that respect.
This message was echoed by EIB Vice-President Thomas Östros who thanked civil society representatives for their valuable contributions to the three public consultations on key EIB policies that occurred in 2021. In particular, he highlighted how this process had strengthened the EIB Group Transparency Policy that guides the Bank’s engagement with civil society.
Working together within the EU and beyond
During the “review of the year and look ahead”, EIB Secretary General Marjut Falkstedt and Director General and Deputy Head of Operations Luca Lazzaroli provided additional details demonstrating the Bank’s commitment to tackle climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.
Detailed figures showed the magnitude of the Bank’s actions last year. In 2021, the EIB Group delivered a record 95 billion euros in financing, supporting over 350 billion euro of investments. Combining 2020 and 2021, the EIB has signed 58 billion euro of investment for operations related to the COVID emergency and launched, in 2021, the European Guarantee Fund helping shelter European companies from the economic consequences of the pandemic.
The role of the Bank in shaping best sustainable market practices was also highlighted. For instance, keeping its leading role when it comes to Green Bonds, the Bank applied by anticipation the stringent monitoring and disclosure requirements of the forthcoming Green Bond Standards to its Climate Awareness Bonds and Sustainability Awareness Bonds.
Civil society representatives insisted on the importance for the Bank to continue its effort to demonstrate further the positive environmental and social impact of its investments. They also praised its role in the Sustainable Finance Platform as well as its stance on the Taxonomy.
Strengthening the Bank’s sustainability framework
Civil society representatives expressed their desire to engage further with the EIB on key elements of the Climate Bank Roadmap, developed in 2020 with the contribution of many stakeholders. In particular, the Bank’s Adaptation Plan, the Paris Alignment for Counterparties (PATH) Framework, or the Just Transition Proposal currently in development were of real were highlighted as topics of real interest.
However, most of the exchanges focused on the EIB Group Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework (ESSF) that was discussed and approved by the Board of Directors the following day. Participants called on the Bank to clarify and strengthen its approach to human rights. They also questioned the EIB’s requirements for consultation of local communities.
Civil society representatives also asked for more information about the EIB’s requirements for financial intermediaries. There were particular concerns regarding EIB financing for hydropower through financial intermediaries.
Finally, participants were interested in knowing more about the Group Strategy on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment that is due to be renewed in 2022. Questions were also raised regarding the requirements for biodiversity assessments outside the EU.
Several Board Members took the floor and thanked the participants for their contributions. They reiterated the value of civil society inputs and acknowledged the limitations of this Seminar for detailed and technical discussions.
Clarifications were provided by the EIB on the equal footing of climate priorities and biodiversity protection, the requirement for projects to comply with the “Do Not Significant Harm” principle, and the strict screening and due-diligence requirements for any hydropower projects. It was also noted that the ESSF is a “living document” and will evolve continuously.
Placing integrity at the heart of what we do
The second thematic session focused on how the Bank maintains the highest level of integrity in the projects it supports despite the inherent constraints of the coronavirus pandemic. The Inspector General referred to the revision of the EIB Group Anti-Fraud Policy and presented the automated data-driven proactive fraud and corruption detection tools developed by EIB since 2018. He called on civil society to reach out to the Bank through its reporting platform when they suspected fraud or corruption as they were closer to the projects.
Civil society representatives welcomed this invitation and wanted to know more about the protection by the Bank of whistleblowers as well as the publication of information regarding ongoing investigations. Additionally, some participants also called on the Bank to systematically freeze funding for projects under investigation.
The discussion gave the Bank the opportunity to reiterate that protection of informants is an absolute priority and that such concerns were also part of the issues addressed by the revision of the EIB Group Whistleblowing Policy last year. The public consultation on the Transparency Policy also led to the removal of the presumption of non-disclosure for finalised investigations. However, the EIB cannot make public information regarding ongoing investigations without the risk of jeopardising them. The EIB also cannot ex ante freeze funding without disregarding the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence, and risking arbitrary decision-making at the level of EIB projects. Nevertheless, the Inspector General explained that the Bank investigates suspicions of prohibited conduct and, if proven, has a range of options including exclusion of entities and individuals, alongside other legal and contractual remedies.
Having a global positive impact
The open discussion with members of the Board of Directors was the opportunity for civil society participants to make comments on topics that had not yet been addressed. A large variety of issues were mentioned, ranging from the Paris alignment of non-ruminant livestock projects to the Bank’s support for financial literacy.
Most of the conversation focused on the recently launched EIB Global. Participants were keen to engage with the EIB on the new branch and regretted not to have more time for it. In particular, they asked about its governance structure, its mandate, and whether the Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework was fit for purpose outside the EU.
Board Members reminded participants about the process that led to establishing EIB Global and the fact that it was the outcome of lengthy discussions between the EIB, other IFIs and the European institutions. It was also confirmed that the scope of the ESSF was intended to cover both EU and non-EU countries, and that the Bank confirmed its willingness to continue engaging with civil society throughout 2022.
After two and a half hours of intense and constructive exchange, Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle concluded the seminar by underlining the value to the EIB of such an event.
The EIB would like to thank all the participants for their continued engagement and the meaningful exchanges that took place during the day.