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Procedure : 2011/2186(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0058/2012

Texts tabled :

A7-0058/2012

Debates :

PV 29/03/2012 - 4
CRE 29/03/2012 - 4

Votes :

PV 29/03/2012 - 9.16
CRE 29/03/2012 - 9.16
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0119

Debates
Thursday, 29 March 2012 - Brussels OJ edition

4. European Investment Bank - annual report 2010 (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Iliana Ivanova, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the European Investment Bank (EIB) – annual report 2010 (2011/2186(INI)) (A7-0058/2012).

 
  
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  Iliana Ivanova, rapporteur. – Mr President, first of all, I would like to congratulate Mr Hoyer on his new post and say that I hope he continues the excellent cooperation between the EIB and the European Parliament.

The European Union is going through the most difficult period in its history. Yesterday, the ECB again expressed its disappointment at the low growth levels and the lower than expected business crediting. At the same time, unemployment rates are greatly increasing in most of our Member States.

In addition to these factors, Europe also faces important external challenges, such as climate change, energy issues and democratic changes in neighbouring countries. That is why the EU needs this strong institution and I welcome the European Investment Bank’s strong commitment to taking a leading role in reviving the European economy.

In the 2010 annual report, I emphasised several important issues that addressed these challenges. The first critical point for me is support for small and medium-sized enterprises. I am convinced that a well-functioning real economy, and SMEs in particular, should be the engine that will boost the EU economic recovery.

The EIB group ensures significant support for SMEs across Europe through its different instruments. Nevertheless, there are still areas that could be improved. First, enhanced transparency in the way that the EIB selects financial intermediaries and allocates global loans. A lot has been done in recent years, but the system of providing this type of financial assistance still needs to be improved. We need clear performance indicators and targets as well as better supervision of financial intermediaries in order to assess the effectiveness of these programmes. It is clear that the final results cannot be properly assessed without adequate and explicit targets. I hope that President Hoyer will address these issues with even better responsiveness than the EIB has demonstrated so far.

The second important point concerns external policy. Even though we recently increased the financial envelope for external affairs, from the budgetary control standpoint, there are still some concerns. There is insufficient information about the results, the impact and the achievements of this policy. The information on the quality of the sub-project’s finances, and consequently the final beneficiaries’ performance, does not provide sufficient assurance that the desired objectives are being achieved. I believe that these points are essential. The European guarantee to the EIB operations outside the EU represents a potential liability for the EU budget and we need to see efficient monitoring tools that show the real value-added of the finance project.

Last but not least, I want to stress my concerns regarding the issues related to internal control mechanisms. I am concerned about the increase of the overall level of credit risk in the Bank’s loan portfolio. It is clear that this is a result of growing pressures on the creditworthiness of existing counterparties and the higher risk embedded in new operations.

The capital adequacy ratio decreases more and more each year. I wonder how the risk management philosophy of the EIB is addressing these challenges. When targeting beneficiaries, it is important to consider seriously their creditworthiness and to actually think of instruments that would encourage and help countries with good financial discipline. We need to give good students a boost as well, and I expect the EIB to take this recommendation on board.

I would like to emphasise the fact that the AAA credit rating of the bank represents the cornerstone of its activity and is essential for its operations. In this respect, the EIB should take all necessary steps to preserve this rating.

I would again like to thank President Hoyer for his cooperation, as well as for the excellent communication we have had with the Brussels representation of the EIB.

 
  
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  Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank. – Mr President, it is a pleasure and an honour for me to be here for the first time in my new capacity and to respond to the report just given by Ms Ivanova. It is a real pleasure because I believe that the cooperation between our Bank and the European Parliament should be clear, should be open and should be transparent. I consider the European Parliament an ally of the Bank in the enormous challenges which we will have to meet in the future.

Allow me first of all to thank Iliana Ivanova for her very thorough and diligent report and for her excellent cooperation with the EIB’s services. We welcome the fact that even though the report has the year 2010 in the title, it not only looks at the past but also examines matters from a broader perspective and addresses some very recent developments, as well as some key orientations for the future. We share the analyses for the current situation and the challenge the European Investment Bank is facing nowadays. Much emphasis has been put on fiscal consolidation – understandably so given the state of finances in many Member States.

Across the continent, we have realised that solid public finances are key to regaining market confidence. However, tackling the problem of public debt and fiscal consolidation is only part of the equation. The other part is restoring sustainable growth, boosting job creation and stimulating competitiveness to ensure the EU maintains its position in a world economy that is now globalising at high speed.

This job-friendly growth – as the Heads of State or Government put it at the Council meeting in January – must be pursued in parallel with fiscal consolidation and this is, as you are aware, where the EIB comes into play. It comes into play with long-term investment in key drivers of economic expansion. I welcome your backing for our commitment to focus on the knowledge triangle of research and development, innovation and education. Indeed, investment in that area is vital for Europe if it does not want to be sidelined by new actors in the global game.

You will be aware that, since 2008, the EIB has, on request by the Member States, and as a timely targeted temporary measure, extended extraordinary lending volumes in support of growth and jobs. Last year, the Bank provided its highest ever contribution to the real economy: some EUR 60 billion actually disbursed to clients at favourable conditions and long tenors. However, this has brought us to a limit, and this was clear from the beginning. This is because the EIB does not spend taxpayers’ money but obtains all the resources it needs for lending by borrowing on the markets – EUR 76 billion last year, almost half of which was from countries outside the European Union which, by the way, is also an indication of trust and confidence in the European Union.

This gradual decrease which we now have in the operation plan was planned, foreseen and necessary for us to protect the financial strength of the Bank and retain the full confidence of our investors. However, it is definitely not satisfactory; I agree with that as well.

So how do we reconcile this decrease in lending volumes with the request from our shareholders to, as it is said, strengthen support for SMEs and infrastructure and enhance action to support growth – to use the wording of the European Council meeting in January? How do we make sure that, in times of need, the EIB does not work pro-cyclically due to its capital constraints? Rather than reducing the number of projects, we have financed a lower proportion of projects – and, in practice, a constant number of projects – in order to maintain our impact across a wide spectrum of areas. We have also made sure not to withdraw from countries in need, as that would contradict our role.

We are aware that the current economic climate and budgetary shortfalls mean that we must find ways to do more with less. Combining EU budget funds with EIB resources, risk sharing and guarantees for financing mechanisms is one way of achieving this. However, at the end of the day, we have come to the conclusion that the overall lending capacity of the EIB remains constrained by its very capital base. This means there are limits to what these risk sharing instruments can achieve.

A conventional capital increase, as you mention in your report, would definitely be the most effective way to remedy that but so far, understandably, the readiness and willingness of Member States to boost our paid-in capital appears limited. Given these constraints, another way to construct capital support for the EIB would be to allow the EU to provide quasi capital.

In the meantime, we continue to explore other alternatives in order to strengthen the Bank’s capital base so as to allow the Bank to do more. We do this while very clearly and precisely following best banking procedures and sticking to very basic principles which provide, or which are the guarantee of, the preservation of the triple-A status of this Bank. This is essential for the business model of the Bank and the European Union Member States. The shareholders of the EIB should have a keen interest in the European Investment Bank, maintaining the balance – and this is the job of any bank – between risk orientation and preserving the good quality of the portfolio, in order to be able to maintain a high rating on the market, because that is the basis for our ability to borrow at very favourable rates and pass this on to the final beneficiary. That is the real economy, and that is where we must make a difference.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I find it particularly pertinent to assess the role of the European Investment Bank in the current economic context. I want to thank the rapporteur, Ms Ivanova, and the European Parliament, as well as President Werner Hoyer, for their very fruitful cooperation.

Looking at the current state of the European economy, our most recent forecast projected that the European Union would go through a phase of mild recession or zero growth this year. While financial markets show some signs of stabilisation, there cannot be any room for complacency. We must continue with determination to conclude and implement our five-point road map for stability and growth.

As the Bank of the European Union, the EIB plays a crucial role in Europe, and last year, the EIB supported projects of wide-ranging importance for the European economy with lending of EUR 54 billion.

To promote the Europe 2020 strategy of jobs and growth and climate action, the Commission and the EIB have been developing innovative financial instruments, such as loan grant lending and risk sharing mechanisms. We welcome the support of Parliament. I would especially like to thank Parliament for its constructive approach to our legal proposal on the project bond pilot initiative and the urgency with which the file has been pursued.

Since the Council was able to reach an agreement yesterday, I am confident that the legislative process can, and will be, concluded by the summer. The pilot phase should already be having a positive impact. When we tabled the proposal last October, we estimated the final multiplier effect to be at around 15 to 20 in terms of comparing the total effective amount of investment to the EU budget contribution. This is expected to mobilise investments of up to EUR 4.6 billion in the pilot phase 2012-2013.

But we must also see the bigger picture. A successful pilot launch can lead to programmes being more widely used, especially in the Connecting Europe facility under the next financial framework. This can create a long-term incentive for capital market investors to invest in this specific project, thus mobilising further resources for sustainable growth and employment in Europe.

Let me also underline the important commitment the EIB has made and is making to support the economic recovery of Greece. Last week, the EIB signed an agreement with the Minister of Development of the Hellenic Republic to create a EUR 500 million guarantee fund which will provide a first-loss guarantee for EIB support of EUR 1 billion of SME lending by Greek banks for small and medium-sized enterprises.

We are also responding to the January European Council’s call to strengthen EIB support in general in Europe for SMEs and infrastructure, not least in the other programme countries, and we are together considering possibilities for the EU budget to deliver the EIB groups’ financing capacity. I agree with President Hoyer that it is very important to look for creative and convincing ways of reinforcing the capital base of the EIB.

Finally, the EIB provided EUR 7 billion of loans outside the EU, and we expect the EIB to focus its external activity on operations in the pre-accession countries, as well as in our eastern neighbours. It will make consistent contributions, with an emphasis on supporting the democratic and economic transformation in the southern Mediterranean in line with the revised mandate adopted by Parliament and the Council.

I am convinced that Parliament’s assessment of the EIB’s activities in the year ahead will be as supportive as its opinion on the 2010 annual report and I am very much looking forward to a continued, close and successful cooperation between the Bank and the Commission.

 
  
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  Bart Staes, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Development. (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I, too, for my part, would like to welcome Mr Hoyer. It is the first time that he has been here and I hope we will have a fruitful cooperation. I want to focus on four matters: first of all, the call on the European Investment Bank to report regularly on its results, including notification of specific data on final beneficiaries. Mr Hoyer, what is your response to this specific request?

Secondly, the external mandate of the European Investment Bank – that is, operations outside the EU in the context of development cooperation – must be in full compliance with Article 208 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which stipulates that the reduction and eradication of poverty in developing countries are the main objectives of the development cooperation policy of the European Union. Focusing on this is, therefore, extremely important.

Thirdly, the European Investment Bank should ensure that compliance with all EU standards, but also with all international standards in the field of environmental protection, and in the fields of social and human rights, is a systematic condition for the provision of funding by the EIB. This means, therefore, that companies which violate these standards, or companies which are registered in tax havens, should not actually be eligible for EIB support. Mr Hoyer, what is your response to this demand by the European Parliament?

Finally, the fourth point, and a positive one, is that the EIB is focusing on combating climate change and that it is committed to renewable energy. In this regard, we say very loudly and clearly: EIB, concentrate on decentralised, small-scale and off-grid projects and, in this way, ensure that rural areas gain proper access to energy.

 
  
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  Syed Kamall, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. – Mr President, I would also like to welcome Mr Hoyer to the Parliament today and to congratulate him on his position.

I would like to speak as the rapporteur on the opinion from the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. Cooperation in the committee was actually very good, as there was agreement on a number of principles. One was the principle of transparency and accountability, and not only to Member States – and I would like to see Member States take a more active role in ensuring accountability, particularly when, in theory, there is an unlimited call on capital for Member States which we have to be aware of during difficult times – but also to report regularly to the European Parliament. I know there has been a precedent set in the past. We also want to make sure that the best prudential banking practices are in place, because – let us not forget – it is European citizens who provide the money via their taxes. It is also important to have as much information as possible in the public domain so that citizens can make their choices.

Of course, there are competing demands on the EIB. Like many banks, we are asking you to rebuild balance sheets, to have a strong balance sheet and to be able to be stress tested and to meet all the requirements. But, at the same time, we are also asking you to lend more money. I understand that balancing those two requirements is always a very difficult thing. But, given the lessons of the crisis, given the problems, and given the fact that the EIB relies on the ratings from the Member States, please make sure that you ensure that you have a strong balance sheet and actually are able to cope with the unexpected.

 
  
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  Crescenzio Rivellini, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to welcome President Hoyer and the Commission and, as shadow rapporteur, I can only approve the fact that in 2010, the European Investment Bank (EIB) increased financing for climate action, energy efficiency, renewable energy, transport, forestation, and so on from the planned EUR 16 billion to EUR 19 billion.

Another positive fact is that by increasing funding to EUR 6 billion in 2010 from the EUR 500 million of 2006, the EIB undoubtedly helped to promote renewable energy, which is a strategic area for EU climate issues. The improvement in technical input, with an increase in the number of experts working on energy efficiency programmes from 40% in 2007 to 64% in 2011, is also an extremely positive factor.

However, there are two negative factors. The first is that the EIB needs to help small and medium-sized enterprises, and the second is that the EIB must not promote projects on prohibited technologies – oil, gas and minerals – which we hope can be gradually eliminated over time.

 
  
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  Ingeborg Gräßle, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to you, President Hoyer. We are pleased that you are able to address us on such an important issue as the annual report now, as you are assuming office. We hope that you will be a frequent visitor. The new multiannual programmes give the European Investment Bank (EIB) a very important role. We hope that the EIB will work hard to redress the deficit in the areas you have just promised, namely, by increasing transparency. Again and again, we find that we know far too little about the costs charged to the EU by the EIB for managing the financial instruments. In other words, we would expressly ask that our questions and the points raised by Ms Ivanova in her report be answered.

In the Committee on Budgetary Control, we have found that there is an increasing interest in the EIB among our colleagues. It is evident that many colleagues want to see a strong EIB. We also want the EIB to supply us with more information, however, providing hard facts and figures that go beyond the colourful photos and attractive brochures, so that we have a genuine insight into how funds are being managed at local level. We should never forget that yours is a relatively small institution. The EU is a relatively large organisation and it has more people on the ground than you do. In other words, the question for us is how you can do things better than the EU itself. Here, too, there is some catching up for you to do.

I would like to point out that the capital base of the EIB cannot be allowed to increase by simply allowing you to take over parked Structural Fund resources, as I recently heard proposed by a party colleague of yours from Germany. We believe that the EIB is an important instrument as an adjunct to the EU and its key activities. That is why we want an efficient EIB, but not as an alternative for activity by the EU itself.

 
  
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  Zuzana Brzobohatá, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (CS) Mr President, as shadow rapporteur for the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D Group), I particularly welcome the wide-ranging support of the European Investment Bank (EIB) for so-called convergence regions, which accounted for almost 41% of overall EIB loans in the EU, and also the fact that almost 30% of the volume of EIB loans in 2010 involved projects directly contributing to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

I would like briefly to focus on four points. First, the responsibility of the EIB. In March this year, based on the opinion of our Committee on Budgetary Control, the European Parliament recommended introducing a system of prudential regulatory oversight of the EIB, either through the European Central Bank or the European Banking Authority, with the possible participation of an independent auditor.

The second point relates to the issues of offshore financial centres and tax havens. In the current situation of ongoing financial and economic crisis in particular, it is important to ensure that the EIB’s financial operations do not contribute to any form of tax evasion or even money laundering.

Thirdly, in view of the economic and financial crisis, we consider it necessary to provide a greater volume of loans for structural programmes supporting economic recovery and growth. In this context, it is essential that the EIB not only continues to offer similar instruments to countries in financial difficulty, but also that it provides substantial support for countries with good financial discipline and convergence regions. It is also very important for the EIB to draw up and implement a strategy aimed at preserving its AAA rating, which is the foundation of the bank’s operations.

Fourthly, I welcome the EIB’s approach to the idea of EU project bonds. I am also delighted that in October last year, the Commission finally submitted the relevant legislative proposal for an initiative which should begin in 2012-2013.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that it was the S&D Group in the European Parliament which supported the new financial measures at EU level as an alternative to the austerity measures and cuts in public spending which most European governments are currently pursuing.

 
  
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  Michael Theurer, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, firstly, I would like to welcome the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Werner Hoyer, and to congratulate him on his committed and convincing debut. Following monetary stabilisation, we must now focus fully on real growth in the economy. One of the key aspects of this is the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises. The EIB supported 115 000 small and medium-sized enterprises in 2010 with funds totalling EUR 10 billion. A credit squeeze nonetheless persists for medium-sized businesses, particularly in the crisis countries and on the periphery of the European Union. We in the European Parliament expect the EIB to do all it can to provide greater support to small and medium-sized enterprises.

We would be interested to learn more about the significance of the guarantees for small and medium-sized enterprises and the options with regard to the Risk Sharing Finance Facility. We also believe it is important that the EIB should play a role in financing infrastructure in the context of the EU project bonds. In summary, we believe that infrastructure, technology and innovation – in short, blue growth – should be at the centre of EIB strategy.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki, on behalf of the ECR Group. (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Hoyer, congratulations on taking on your new and important, perhaps increasingly important, function. I would like firstly to emphasise that, in my view, as a member of the Committee on Budgetary Control and, even more importantly, as a politician from a poor country, namely Poland, it is extremely important for the European Investment Bank to continue and to give much more priority to its assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises, which, in reality, represent the part of the economy in each country that enables us to weather the present crisis more successfully. Large firms have large problems, while small companies can be more flexible, but they deserve our support and assistance. You have supported 100 000 small companies, but that is too few, and EUR 10 billion is too little. I am calling for more to be done.

I would also like to say that the European Investment Bank should be an investing bank, that is, a bank that expects a return on its investments. Investment projects cannot be ideological in nature. To be entirely honest, I have the impression that some of the projects that relate to combating global warming or reducing CO2 emissions appear to be driven more by ideology than by economic or financial considerations.

 
  
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  Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (PPE).(EL) Mr President, I should like to start by welcoming the President of the European Investment Bank to plenary and to welcome the initiatives taken and work carried out by the Bank in combating the emergency caused by the crisis and the constant efforts being made to achieve social and economic cohesion and stability and growth in our neighbourhood.

I should like to focus my attention on the need for complementarity between the resources of the European Investment Bank and the resources of the Structural Funds. We need to consider how we can combine the Bank’s activities with unused resources, so that we can offer venture capital and technical support to small and medium-sized enterprises. I believe that our efforts should focus, on the one hand, on the sectors that give the European Union competitive advantages, such as the knowledge economy – and I welcome the efforts you have already made in that direction – and, on the other, on the countries which have been particularly hard hit by the crisis.

I should like to welcome, in particular, the creation of the Guarantee Fund recently established in my country, Greece. It makes provision for soft loans totalling EUR 500 million to be channelled – via banks – to small and medium-sized enterprises. I should like to ask how you view its prospects and what direct action has already been planned in order to address the economic and social crisis in Greece and to kick-start the economy, which is something we badly need.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Mr President, we are facing an inescapable reality. The European Union cannot emerge from the recession it is going through just by applying austerity measures. It needs sound economic growth which is built on investment in research, development and infrastructure. In this context, the European Parliament is calling today on the governor of the EIB to approve a significant increase in the bank’s capital. We must take rapid action to encourage the development of sustainable industries and job creation.

I mentioned it already as part of the 2009 European Investment Bank report and I will reiterate the same idea again today. It is the European Commission’s duty to introduce bonds for funding projects as soon as possible, preferably prior to the 2014-2020 budget period.

Finally, I would like to point out that the EIB should give priority to investment projects in regions and Member States which are facing the biggest economic difficulties and the most serious liquidity problems.

 
  
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  Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, Mr Rehn, I wish to congratulate Werner Hoyer on his brilliant debut in his new job.

Mr Hoyer, this is not an easy time for the European Union. This economic and financial crisis calls for adroit economic and political expertise. You have both in good measure. The European Parliament is happy to see you at the helm of the European Investment Bank (EIB). I would also like to thank the outgoing Vice-President, Matthias Kollatz-Ahnen, however, as he has also achieved a great deal. As an example, I would mention the establishment of the European Energy Efficiency Fund. Mr Hoyer, the role of your bank is decisive in overcoming the crisis. We are all aware of this. You have also proven this. I would cite the example of how you overcame the crisis in the automotive sector. Thanks to the scrapping premiums, which were mainly paid for by your bank, we managed to do something good for the environment, while also providing a stimulus for the economy.

We are now facing new challenges. We have heard several references to the issue of project bonds. We are constantly talking about the innovative financial instruments we expect from your bank. We need clear rules, however; we expect your bank to issue clear rules for all Member States. We wish you every success in your efforts to obtain a triple-A rating for the bank. As stated in our report, for which I would like to thank Ms Ivanova, we would like to see the EU becoming a shareholder. This may perhaps be a step in the right direction. I wish you all the best for the work ahead.

 
  
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  Vicky Ford (ECR). – Mr President, investing in infrastructure research and innovation is key to unlocking growth and increasing competitiveness, and the EIB has an important role to play. In my amendments to the Capital Requirements Directive, I have proposed that banks cofinancing long-dated infrastructure with the EIB should be able to drop their risk rating by 50%. However, the EIB relies on its guarantee – implied guarantee – from our Member States for its triple-A rating, and we do need improved transparency.

The Risk Sharing Finance Facility, loan guarantee facility and Eurostars programmes for SMEs appear to be under-utilised by certain Member States. These programmes can be overly bureaucratic when compared to national programmes, and we should look at this.

Last year, I led negotiations for this Parliament on budgetary frameworks. It obliges countries to disclose off-balance sheet debts and contingent liabilities, and the project bond initiative must not be an excuse to hide new debts in complex arrangements between our Member States, the EU and the EIB. So the pilot schemes should be carefully monitored and assessed before a larger roll-out. Funds should be open to all and pricing must be fair. As MEPs, we all know of the infrastructure needs in our own countries. In my region, we need investment in broadband, electricity grids and key roads. If project bonds can unlock that investment without adding hidden leverage for our national taxpayers, then I will support them.

 
  
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  Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I wish to begin by congratulating the European Investment Bank for almost doubling its level of activity and financial results during the last three years. I also wish to congratulate it for the way in which it devised its strategy for the 2011-2013 period. I once again welcome the fact that the future multiannual financial framework will also have the support of the European Investment Bank which, I hope, will play a much more significant role in the period ahead, both as a player in the economic recovery, but especially in the European Union’s sustainable economic development.

However, I believe that it is of paramount importance for us to encourage European Union Member States which have financial problems and are unable to cofinance projects from European funds to resort to support from the European Investment Bank. We should think about using those incentives to increase the take-up of European funds significantly and make it much more effective in Eastern European states, particularly because we need to use European funds efficiently.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, I welcome the President of the EIB and indeed the good work the EIB is doing in trying to combat the crisis we are in at the minute, especially their loans to SMEs. However, I have a question for the President: how can he guarantee that the actual loans are being given to SMEs? In my country at least, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the banks are using them to balance their own books rather than giving them to SMEs. That is a very important point.

Secondly, I particularly welcome their role in combating climate change and in putting infrastructure in place, especially interconnectors and super grids, etc. That is absolutely vital. Thirdly, he mentioned the need for triple-A ratings, and we agree with that. I noticed that the EIB was put on negative credit watch at the end of 2011, but I have a difficulty here as I think those who are doing the ratings do not have a triple-A reputation themselves. This is either owing to their role in the financial crisis or to the recent timing of ratings prior to Council meetings, which could be seen as political interference. It would be much better if we introduced the reforms which we suggested here in Parliament a few months ago.

 
  
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  Mojca Kleva (S&D). (SL) Mr President, I would like to welcome the annual report by the European Investment Bank, above all because, in 2010, the bank provided more than EUR 25 billion to European regions hardest hit by the economic crisis and, thereby, increased the volume of structural lending programmes.

It is essential that this practice continues in the future. The role such loans, risk-sharing instruments and project bonds may have in supporting public investments will be extremely important in the recovery of the European economy.

The European Investment Bank should continue to cooperate with the European Commission and the European Parliament, which is why I welcome today’s debate. The EIB should also offer a wide range of innovative financial instruments not only to countries facing financial and economic crisis but, in the future, also to those with good financial discipline and with convergence regions.

Finally, I would personally like to congratulate President Hoyer on his new office.

 
  
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  Claudio Morganti (EFD).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the work of the European Investment Bank (EIB) is undoubtedly important, especially when it is working to support our small and medium-sized enterprises.

However, I would like to highlight one point of the 2010 report which leaves me somewhat perplexed. I cannot understand how Turkey can be by far the biggest recipient of funding outside of the EU. A large part of European loans are, in fact, going to Turkish companies which are often in direct and unfair competition with our own businesses. From a political point of view, it is even more serious that a bank comprising the twenty-seven Member States should grant loans to a country that does not even recognise one of them, and that continues to threaten Europe regarding the imminent Cypriot Presidency.

Therefore, I have tabled an amendment to freeze funding to Turkey until the Cyprus question has been resolved. I hope that Parliament will not look the other way today, but will take this important initiative seriously.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, when the word ‘bank’ is attached to an institution, it bestows on it a status of economic rationality and even professionalism, but the role of this institution is to pursue the objectives of the EU project.

In 2010, the Board of Directors declared that its activities had three main dimensions: the Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy with its employment strategy that embraces neoliberal economic policy and an acceptance of globalism; combating climate change – well, we had an 11th century Danish King of England who set himself a comparable task – and, thirdly, supporting the EU’s foreign policy objectives.

This is yet another example of the fact that, whatever activity the EU is following, whatever institution we are looking at, or whatever ostensible objective it might have, the real objective is the European project, the creation of a European – or perhaps these days, not so very European – superstate.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, there is no doubt about the role played by the European Investment Bank in tackling the current economic and financial crisis or in achieving the 2020 strategy objectives. This is why I think that this institution must continue its efforts to support the European Union economy and promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, with a particular focus on projects targeted at the less developed regions.

It is of particular significance that in terms of lending volume, public-private partnership projects accounted in 2010 for 32% of the lending granted by the EIB to the trans-European transport networks. In a situation where public funding is becoming increasingly restricted, I think that channelling EIB investment into such projects will provide tangible support in supplementing the efforts made at local and regional level. These partnerships are crucial to the European Union being able to make the necessary investments in particular areas, such as infrastructure and the services sector. I suggest to the Commission that it should make specific improvements in strengthening the public-private partnership.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). - (SK) Mr President, after the financial and economic crisis erupted, it was widely expected that the European Investment Bank would support and ensure the continuity of many projects. In a number of areas, however, these expectations were not fulfilled, and in last year’s debate on the annual report for 2009, I pointed out that the anti-crisis funding which should have been channelled into these small and medium-sized enterprises in Eastern Europe had long been used mainly to boost the balance sheets of private commercial banks.

We expected that, in a time of crisis, the European Investment Bank would give priority to helping those areas most affected by the crisis. When we look at the distribution of loans last year, however, a specific picture emerges. While Germany got 10% of the overall amount, Greece got only 1.6%. Given German savings and trade surpluses, and given the problems of Greece, we expected that it would be the other way around. The same applies to Central and Eastern Europe. The least affected countries are getting a far bigger slice of the cake, while countries such as Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and Romania get only tenths of a percent. I would like to know the basis on which loans are distributed between the individual countries.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ALEJO VIDAL-QUADRAS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). - (SK) Mr President, the European Investment Bank (EIB) can substantially influence the nature of planned investment activities through the political, technical and financial criteria it chooses to apply in the selection of financial assistance. The EIB’s criteria for providing financial assistance must therefore take into account certain visionary aspects of the changes expected in a civilised society.

Support for technologies which do not achieve better than average European environmental standards should therefore be very limited. In my opinion, the expert assessment of projects should, in the future, be based more on the input and participation of specialists assessing the environmental and innovative parameters of planned investments. This seems to me the only way that we can contribute, through EIB assistance, to enhanced innovation and more environmentally-friendly new investments, both in Europe and worldwide.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, let me deal with two issues which are of paramount importance for the work of the EIB and for our joint work to enhance sustainable growth and employment through investment. The first one relates to recent initiatives to bolster the EIB’s capital, a matter that was raised by many Members, and the second – a related issue in fact – is project bonds, which was also raised by several Members.

You may recall that it was decided at the January European Council to strengthen EIB support for SMEs and infrastructure. The Council, the Commission and the EIB were invited to consider possible options to enhance EIB action to support growth and to make appropriate recommendations, including possibilities for the EU budget to leverage EIB group financing capacity, and to implement the relevant measures by June 2012.

The Commission fully supports this objective and this work and we are currently exploring possibilities to do so. In this regard, Ms Gräßle raised the point that the Structural Funds are not an appropriate method for this. I would like to provide you with the Commission’s position on this, which has been, as always, collegially prepared.

The Structural Funds are earmarked for individual Member States while the EIB’s Tier 1 capital must support the Bank’s entire operations. Hence, this Tier 1 capital cannot be allocated to specific Member States or sectors.

Member States would thus have to agree unanimously to give up their national Structural Funds allocations for general use by the EIB. This is not feasible really, given the obstacles to using Structural Funds for these purposes to increase the EIB’s capital. The Commission is currently exploring alternative options. To achieve this objective, we are open to any convincing option which increases the EIB’s capital base with a significant and lasting leveraging effect and which has a solid financial prudential foundation.

My second point: I informed you that the Council had reached an agreement yesterday on the Commission proposal for the project bonds’ pilot phase. This will support infrastructure projects by bringing new investors to the sector, which is a very important signal in the context of enhancing growth.


Now, this agreement in the Council is the first major milestone towards adoption of the proposal, the other being, of course, the agreement of this Parliament. One of you said that the Commission has a duty to put forward a proposal on the pilot phase. I want to throw the ball back to Parliament. Parliament will, I trust, treat this file as a matter of the highest priority and we hope negotiations will start in April in time for its entry into force in June; we do not want to waste any more time but to get action moving in this very important field.

I can tell you that, in the meantime, the Commission is preparing all the subsequent steps required for the implementation of project bonds so that this can take place immediately once the decision has been taken. At the same time, the EIB is intensifying its work on identifying suitable projects for this exercise.

In other words, and in conclusion, all the stars are now aligned for a speedy implementation ensuring urgent support for Europe’s economy, its growth and job creation through investment in infrastructure.

 
  
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  Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank. – Mr President, honourable Members, let me first of all thank you very much for this very warm welcome to the European Parliament for a long-time parliamentarian who, after 25 years, gave up his parliamentary seat just a couple of weeks ago. It is good to be back and to be in a debate. I welcome and thank you for so many interesting questions and suggestions in width and in depth. Unfortunately, I will not be able to cover all this in the remaining four minutes but let me assure you that I will be available to Parliament and its committees whenever you consider it useful.

I believe there is a hidden treasure in Luxembourg. You here are all experts. You are all the European Investment Bank. If I go to the politicians on the budget committees or the economic committees of the parliaments of the Member States, I find limited knowledge about the EIB. Nobody knows what a valuable instrument this is for the European institutions. This is an institution which, by its lending volume, is far bigger than the World Bank. We must make this known among our citizens in the European Union because this is something we can bring into place when it goes in favour of job creation in Europe, change in the environmental situation in Europe, climate action, and when it comes to boosting innovation, growth and employment.

We should develop this institution. Here, I consider this Parliament to be one of the best allies of the European Investment Bank and this is why I do not shy away from questions of transparency, compliance and auditing. I just went through my first experiences as President of the Bank in the field of auditing and compliance and I must say that I am proud of the procedures that have been adopted and improved over the last couple of years. There is always room for improvement. I am ready to talk about this with this Parliament. We have seen that the question of transparency plays such an important role for the European Parliament. I welcome this and this is a promise I can give you.

What I would like to stress is the excellent cooperation we have with the Commission and I thank, in particular, Commissioner Rehn, but his colleagues as well, for this cooperation. I do not agree with the suggestion that might lie between the lines of what Ms Gräßle said. She said, do not draw funds from the European Commission, from the Union, over to the Bank. No, we have to do this together. We have to use the financing instruments of the Bank in order to reach the goals and the objectives of the Commission and the Union in general. This is the way we cooperate and this cooperation works very well.

In this context, also in view of the new instruments we are developing, it is very important to bring in the expertise of the Bank at a very early stage. What impressed me the most when I arrived at the Bank was the fact that I found not only an incredible wealth of financial and banking expertise, I found also an incredible wealth of engineering capacities, of science and technology experts, and things like that. This is so important in coming to a really sound assessment of projects and proposals and we should, in the best sense of the word, bank on that. I think the Commission is doing that again and again, because our expertise is needed again and again.

The activities of the bank have clearly been expanded from purely lending to also blending with the resources of the Commission and Parliament and the European institutions and advising, because the expertise that our bank incorporates can be made available to the Member States, to our partners in business. Business: this is the point. If I welcomed the pilot phase for the project bonds so warmly, which is obviously clear now, then this is also due to the fact that this is a very valuable instrument with which to get experience in raising private money. For the huge infrastructure challenges to be met over the next couple of years, we need to be able to attract more private money and this is how the European Investment Bank can make a contribution.

A lot of things have been said about SMEs. If I look at the strengths of the economies of some of our Member States at least, or the European economy in general, one can say that here is the backbone of employment, of innovation in the European Union, so it is clear that we must strengthen them. We must also strengthen them where they are not so strong yet, but we have indeed been very active in the last couple of years. If I remember the figures correctly – we are talking about the 2010 annual report – more than EUR 11.5 billion was given out in cooperation with these small and medium-sized industries; overall, it is about 120 000.

A last word, on innovation. In my view, this is the most important thing we need to think about in looking at our overall role. Our overall role is to contribute to the competitiveness of Europe in the globalised world. The share of innovation activities we all have there is not, in my view, sufficient. So, in addition, to what I have said about energy and energy efficiency, new energies in the fields of SMEs, innovation might be a very important additional pillar. Thank you very much and I am looking forward to very good cooperation with this Parliament.

 
  
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  Iliana Ivanova, rapporteur. – Mr President, I wish to thank President Hoyer for his responsiveness and openness, and would also thank Commissioner Rehn and all my colleagues for this fruitful discussion. I also wish to thank everyone involved in the process of preparing this report, which I think is balanced and which acknowledges the EIB’s achievements in 2010 and highlights the red-flag points raised during our discussion.

Let me point briefly to some additional important elements in the report that have also been raised in our discussion today. Firstly, on financial instruments, I consider the cooperation between the EIB and the Commission in this field to be a good example of joint actions and I underline the positive outcome of existing instruments, such as the Risk Sharing Financing Facility. However, I believe it essential to develop a comprehensive global audit system which will contribute to ensuring the best control management of these instruments in view of their growing complexity.

Secondly, on project bonds, I fully share Commissioner Rehn’s position and welcome and support the EU 2020 bonds initiative. I welcome the agreement on the pilot phase of the project, which I believe is crucial in order to assess the effectiveness of the new system and to remedy any problems which may occur, in advance and as soon as possible.

Thirdly, on prudential regulatory supervision, I share the view that the EIB should be subject to the same prudential rules as other credit establishments in the Union. This will improve the prudential control on the quality of the Bank’s financial situation and will ensure that its results are accurately measured.

Last but not least, the question of climate change was mentioned in the debate. I welcome the EIB’s action on climate change and call on it to refrain from funding certain types of projects which have devastating environmental and social impacts. Furthermore, I call for full alignment of the Bank’s operations with the EU objectives for a swift transition to a low carbon economy.

I would like to thank again all my colleagues, and especially the shadow rapporteurs, who worked on this dossier. I hope the House will vote in favour of this report, which will contribute to improving even further the EIB’s activities in support of the EU’s objectives.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11.30.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Emer Costello (S&D), in writing. – I support Parliament’s resolution in response to the EIB’s 2010 annual report. The EIB is one of the most important EU institutions for supporting the real economy and it must play a leading role in getting the European economy growing and creating jobs again.

In 2010, the EIB provided support to more than 100 000 SMEs across the EU. This is very welcome but we have to remember that there are 23 million SMEs in the EU, accounting for 98% of all enterprises and a huge number of jobs. I therefore very much welcome the resolution’s call for greater support to be provided for SMEs. I also look forward to the responses to the January European Council call for stronger EIB support for SMEs and infrastructure. In all of this, we have to ensure that EIB support for SMEs actually goes to the SMEs and does not remain with the banks.

I also welcome the clear support in the resolution for the Europe 2020 project bond initiative to support major European infrastructure projects, as launched in a pilot phase by the Commission last October.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE), in writing.(HU) In order to ensure a comprehensive audit of the complex financial instruments that are continuously being developed by the EIB and its partners, it is essential to set up a comprehensive global control system. The fact that the report warns the bank to ensure increased transparency and better accountability in respect of its riskier programmes is welcome. Therefore, according to one of my motions for amendment, the EIB must be subjected in all cases to prudential regulatory supervision so as to ensure that it preserves its AAA rating and to enable the oversight of the quality of its financial situation, accurate measurement of its results and compliance with the professional rules of good conduct.

Furthermore, I fully support the EIB’s efforts to provide increased assistance to SMEs, which represent the driving force of the European economy. The report also highlights the leading role of the European Investment Fund (EIF) in supporting the EU economy and SMEs in particular. It underlines the weakness of the SME’s securitisation market and encourages the EIF to continue its efforts in supporting recovery. I definitely consider these remarks a significant step forward. I believe that in addition to the above, the EIB should continue to support the Europe 2020 strategy by leveraging Structural Funds and through further use of innovative financial instruments. It is therefore undeniable that this work has led to a balanced report. I congratulate the rapporteur and thank her for her exhaustive work.

 
  
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  Edit Herczog (S&D), in writing.(HU) Due to the current economic situation and the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Investment Bank is playing a special part in the EU’s life. Since the fundamental aim of the strategy is to achieve economic growth by means such as job creation, sustainable development, innovation and so on, projects financed by the EIB, in particular, those targeting small and medium-sized enterprises, the driving forces of the economy, constitute an important part of this.

However, in order for the EIB to be able to operate with appropriate effectiveness and efficiency and thereby contribute to the achievement of the EU’s strategic goals, due attention must be given to the measurement of its performance. This, in turn, requires, on the one hand, that both result and performance indicators as well as counterbalancing indicators be well-aligned to the strategy and cover the key strategic objectives. On the other hand, provision must be made for the measurement of quantifiable indicators so that they can be interpreted clearly by everyone.

An appropriate, well-functioning and clear performance evaluation system enhances transparency and accountability, which is of fundamental importance. What can the Commission do to ensure that the EIB applies the well-functioning performance measurement system of the European Court of Auditors? Is there any way for the Court to cooperate with the EIB to develop a new performance measurement system? What is the Commission’s position on the costs associated with performance indicators and the need to measure them?

 
  
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  Vladimír Maňka (S&D), in writing. (SK) The European Investment Bank (EIB) is one of the main instruments for implementing the EU’s strategic objectives and it plays a leading role in European economic recovery and in supporting growth.

The overall volume of loans provided, the project to get the European recovery back on track, and also the 30% growth in loans paid out for convergence objectives are key successes, not only for the bank itself, but particularly for economic recovery and revival in Europe. The bank’s chief activities are in support of the Europe 2020 strategy. We must encourage fully the EIB’s efforts to secure greater support for SMEs, which are the driving force of the European economy. The EIB’s activities are supported by funds obtained on the money markets. An AAA rating is therefore essential to the functioning of the bank. At the end of 2011, the ratings agencies gave the bank a negative outlook. It is therefore necessary to take measures to retain the excellent credit rating.

The EIB should continue to support the Europe 2020 strategy through the use of Structural Funds and through the application of other innovative financial instruments.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE), in writing.(PL) As Vice-Chair of the Committee on Budgetary Control, I am satisfied with the work of the European Investment Bank in 2010. I particularly approve of the bank’s work in relation to funding undertakings in the field of environment protection and, in particular, of the increase in the proportion of project experts whose work focuses primarily on energy efficiency/renewable energy projects from 40% in 2007 to 64% in 2011, and also of the inclusion of this matter in the bank’s priorities for 2011-2013. This is a positive step towards achieving the objectives of a low-carbon economy by 2050.

Furthermore, as a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, I think that in the next few years, the bank should give greater emphasis to projects which support the development of public transport and the management of water resources and which promote biodiversity. The European Investment Bank also supports small and medium-sized enterprises in the Central and Eastern European Member States. This support rose by 25%, or EUR 14 billion, in 2010. There was also a 30% increase in the disbursements in lending for convergence goals. This is an important trend, which contributes to the sustainable development of the Union and which should be maintained.

However, the EIB wants to maintain its credibility, and so must strive for maximum transparency in its operations. To this end, greater use should be made of its website, and the language of its documents and its control and monitoring system should be simplified. It is also important to adopt criteria which allow real evaluation of effectiveness in the use of funds, instead of concentrating only on measuring results in terms of quantity.

 
  
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  Georgios Stavrakakis (S&D) , in writing.(EL) Firstly, I should like to congratulate the rapporteur on her report. The European Investment Bank is one of the means used to support the real economy. In the midst of the credit crisis, the Bank plays an important role in efforts to revive the European economy and support growth and create jobs. That is why I should like to highlight the achievements of the European Investment Bank in 2010, such as increased lending to back European measures to support the economy.

I should also like to state that I endorse the position expressed in the report, that support for small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU should be one of the basic priorities of the European Investment Bank, given that small and medium-sized enterprises are the ‘engine’ that drives the European economy and creates jobs.

Finally, I should like to highlight the need for appropriate measures to be taken to ensure that the Bank maintains its excellent AAA credit rating and is subject to the same preventive supervision rules as every other credit institution. That will safeguard the Bank’s financial standing and also ensure that results are measured accurately.

 
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