Europe's economy might be showing signs of improvement, but many people have yet to feel the benefits as both unemployment and the cost of living remain high. The European Investment Bank (EIB) plays a key role in boosting growth and jobs in the EU. When EIB president Werner Hoyer appeared in front of the EP's budgetary control committee on 25 November to present the bank's annual report for 2012, we took the opportunity to ask him how his bank could help Europe's recovery.
There will be less money in the EU's budget for 2014-2020 - also known as the multi-annual framework - than in the previous period and member states' budgets are still under pressure. Will the EIB's loans become more relevant and compensate austerity in order to help to boost growth and employment within the EU?
In response to the crisis, the European Investment Bank made a deliberate U-turn this year and moved from a pro-cyclical to a counter-cyclical course. This was possible after member states decided to substantially strengthen the EIB´s capital by contributing €10 billion.
We are now stepping up our lending activities this year and the following two years by more than 40% to nearly €70 billion for restarting growth and creating jobs in Europe. I expect the EIB Group to play a greater role under the multiannual framework for 2014-2020.
Is the EIB providing any special assistance to the bail-out countries in the EU?
We are strongly committed to effectively lend considerable amounts to the peripheral countries in Europe that have been hit the hardest by the crisis, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises and middle-level capitalisation companies. Our lending target for small and medium-sized companies in 2013 is more than 50% above the 2012 level and will bring the overall EIB Group support to small and medium-sized enterprises and middle-level capitalisation companies beyond €20 billion.
But to avoid any misunderstanding: our business model is based on a well-balanced portfolio across the entire European Union. This is of the utmost importance to our investors.
Do you think the financial and bank crisis is already behind us? What is next for Europe: recovery or stagnation?
Europe has responded to the crisis with a coherent and consistent strategy. This strategy is delivering results: the imbalances have been reduced and the competitiveness, in particular in the southern countries, has improved. Ireland and Spain are about to leave their support programmes. We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but of course there is no time for complacency, in particular with regards to the high unemployment rates. Only if and when the situation is improving on the ground, in the real economy, especially on the labour markets, can we say that the crisis is over.