New EIB Disclosure Policy Found Wanting

16 March 2010

The European Investment Bank Feb. 3 announced a disclosure policy, making limited movement toward the release of more documents.

The new policy was greeted with criticism by a leading group that follows the Bank closely and critically. CEEBankwatch Network stressed that the EIB is continuing to shield intermediary financial institutions from disclosing what loans they make with EIB funds.

Anna Roggenbuck, Bankwatch’s EIB Campaign coordinator, said in a Feb. 4 press release, “The EIB’s unwillingness to permit just a chink of light on its lending through financial intermediaries is symptomatic of the new policy as a whole. If one of the lessons of the economic crisis is the need for greater transparency in the financial system, then the message has not got through to the EU’s bank.”

About 20 percent of the EIB’s lending goes to commercial banks across Europe, that in turn make loans to small- and medium-sized companies, public authorities, mid-companies, investments funds or equity funds. The amounts of loans to these intermediaries is known, but the disclosure of information about the final beneficiaries is not required. The EIB says it has “no contractual relationship” with the final beneficiaries.

Bankwatch’s assessment of the new transparency policy finds that it leaves the EIB as the least transparent of the major public international financial institutions.

Roggenbuck said, “In spite of a wide range of inputs from civil society groups calling on the EIB to take a more pro-active approach to information disclosure in the interests of the environment and good value for EU money, the EIB’s discomfort with real openness for its lending has again come to the surface.  

“Marginal changes have come about from this review of the EIB’s transparency policy, with the result that for the foreseeable future the EIB’s response to the economic crisis will continue to be exclusively about big lending numbers, with far too many gaps in information to allow for a proper assessment of what good, and potentially bad, projects the EIB is supporting in the EU’s recovery efforts.”

Positive Step Caused by Lisbon Treaty

A positive step forward in the new policy, according to CEEBankwatch, was generated not from the EIB but rather from its coverage by the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.

After the Lisbon Treaty came into force, the EIB was subject to Regulation 1049 governing access to documents. After first resisting this mandate, the Bank during the second round accepted its coverage. With that came a policy that contains defined exemptions to disclosure. In addition, the EIB policy now refers to the possibility of disclosure if there is 
“an overriding public interest.”

Transparency advocates hope this means that that the exceptions will be treated narrowly, and on the basis of case-by-case analysis.

Complaints Mechanism Praised
The EIB simultaneously announced a features a new “complaints mechanism” to resolve disputes, which was praised by CEEBankwatch.

CEE Bankwatch Network also welcomed the refinements made to the EIB’s Complaints Mechanism which provide it with operational independence within the EIB structure and which have made the complaint procedure itself considerably clearer.


By Toby McIntosh

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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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