European Investment Bank Issues New Transparency Policy

7 November 2002

The European Investment Bank has written a new transparency policy.

The new rule continues to emphasize the EIB’s willingness to honor requests for confidentiality by third parties. It indicates that the EIB will follow the disclosure practices of the banking industry.

The new rule will soon be posted on the EIB web site (www.eib.org), but a written copy was provided to freedominfo.org in advance of Internet issuance.

About 16 months in the making, the new rule is unlikely to assuage critics, who particularly have sought some break in the strict confidentiality with which the bank guards its staff appraisals of the nearly 300 projects, worth nearly 40 billion euros, approved each year.

The new rules spell out a series of reasons for nondisclosure. Some are familiar, such as protection of personal privacy and the internal decision-making process. Others exceptions appear to sweep in the transparency standards of the private sector.

One exception indicates: "Access to all or part of a document shall be refused where its disclosure would undermine the protection of: … (vii) the obligation of professional secrecy where such disclosure were to be contrary to professional ethics, rules and practices applicable in the banking and financial sector."

The Bank’s rule states that the EIB will not disclose information it is asked not to by project promoters, typically from private sector. The exception states: "Any document or part of a document containing information about third parties [defined as anyone outside the Bank] shall not be disclosed, where the information has been identified to the Bank as being confidential, or is covered by the undertaking of confidentiality made by the Bank, or where the information is otherwise of such a nature that it is subject to the Bank’s duty of confidentiality toward third parties."

These exceptions appear to indicate little practical change in policy. An EIB official in Luxembourg told freedominfo.org that the policy is "not a huge jump," and rather "just a slightly more positive approach."

Honoring requests for confidentiality is customary at the EIB. In fact, no public notice is given concerning about one-third of the loan applications that reach the penultimate stage of consideration. Even after approval the bank will not make a public announcement. The reasons for such confidentiality usually relate to a market sensitivity. A full list of projects is published in the Bank’s annual report.

A further suggestion that document disclosure may be limited, arises from the strong emphasis laid on not releasing bank documents, including after a decision is taken, if doing so "would undermine the Bank’s decision-making process."

The new rule offers more specificity with regard to making requests for documents. Applications for access are to be addressed to the EIB Information and Communications Department, and an Internet address is provided: infopol@eib.org or infopol@bei.org. Requests are to be handled in accordance with the conditions spelled out in the Bank’s Code of Good Administrative Behavior, which says requests should be acknowledged within two weeks, and answered within two months. Documents should be provided in electronic form where available, the new rule says.

Appeals of nondisclosure decisions, according to the rule, would go the European Ombudsman.

In the preamble to the rule, the Bank says that the new rule is guided by its mission as financing institution of the European Union, "and its functioning as a bank." Noting the desire by the European Union governing bodies to address transparency in recent years, the EIB states that its policy "reflects a commitment’ to EU policy objectives on transparency and to "the principles and limits" of a 2001 EU regulation on access to documents.

However, the EIB explicitly indicates that it is not covered the new Regulation EC/1049/2001, which it says applies only to the Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

Regarding the release of older records, the EIB adopts a 30-year standard for disclosure.

Freedominfo.org will post the full text of the EIB’s new transparency policy as soon as it becomes available.

By Toby McIntosh

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Filed under: IFTI Watch

ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
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