EIB Urged to Revise Transparency Policy

7 July 2014

The European Investment Bank needs to make substantial improvements to its 2010 transparency policy, according to a recent letter by nongovernmental organizations.

The NGOs, led by the group Counter Balance based in Brussels,  wrote to the EIB on July 1 in advance of an EIB-sponsored stakeholder meeting July 10.

“Drawing on our experience with the implementation of the Policy, our main conclusion is that, despite significant progress, there is a need to ensure better access to information by affected people, a more pro-active disclosure of documents, a narrower definition of the exceptions and a stronger and particularly more expeditious appeals mechanism, which is less cumbersome and time- consuming than the current complaints mechanism,” the letter summarizes.

The letter references a March 2014 call from the European Parliament to increase the transparency of its operations and to make more information available. 

The letter cites four areas where improvements are necessary and makes recommendations:

1) Access by affected people to project information

  • The new policy should impose a direct obligation on the EIB to provide information to communities affected by EIB projects in a manner and format which is accessible to them, through precise provisions on access to information. Complete and timely information should be made available at the local level and key information should be produced in an accessible language and form.
  • A mechanism for early public notice should be established. This should require the Bank to indicate how and when it and the borrower will notify a community that a project or programme expected to affect them is under preparation and require that such communications form an integral part of publicly available preparatory project documents.
  • Information for affected people should not only be provided through the website; the Bank should also be require to put in place other communication means which are suitable for affected communities which may not have access to electricity, let alone the Internet.
  • The new External Lending Mandate of the EIB for the period 2014-2020 states that, “where possible, project completion reports related to EIB financing operations shall be published excluding confidential information”. The new policy should build on that requirement.
  • The policy should be gender sensitive.
  • Information about all banking activity and bank financed clients’ activity should be made available in a standardised and open data format through the website on the project (or other lending activity) dedicated pages.

(2) Disclosure of information by the Bank, third parties and the regime of exceptions

  • Public disclosure requirements should be made part of binding language in all contracts, partnership agreements and legally binding documents between the EIB and others.
  • Full public disclosure should be the norm, subject only to the regime of exceptions in the policy. When disclosure is denied, the EIB should bear the burden of showing that the information requested falls within the scope of one or more exceptions. All of the exceptions in the policy should adhere to strict standards of harm; referring generally to business confidentiality is not sufficient in this regard.
  • The EIB should indicate clearly, for example by blacking out or inserting notices in electronic document, what text has been removed, so that requesters are aware of redactions, of how much information has been redacted, and from which parts of the documents.
  • As with the EU Bank, enhanced transparency rules for the governing bodies should replace the currently overbroad exceptions relating to these bodies in the current Policy. For example, more information about governing body meetings should be available, and Board of Directors meetings opened to external observers. Documents should be made public well in advance of Board hearings, generally at the same time as they are sent to the Board.
  • As a public institution with a commitment to transparency, the Bank should not do business with financial intermediaries which refuse to make data on their beneficial owners or their investors publicly available.
  • As far as intermediated lending is concerned, we call on the Bank to respect the EP resolution of 11 March 2014, which “reiterates and accentuates the Bank’s responsibility in enhancing the level of transparency in the selection of financial intermediaries and partners for co- financed projects and as regards the final beneficiaries”.
  • As a public institution with a commitment to transparency, the Bank should ensure that all beneficiaries, whether corporations or financial intermediaries, that are incorporated in different jurisdictions must be obliged to disclose country level information about their sales, assets, employees, profits and tax payments in each country in which they operate in their audited annual reports. ?

(3) Oversight and appeals system

  • Anyone who believes that the EIB has failed to respect its access to information policy has the right to have the matter reviewed by an independent and authoritative body. The existing complaints mechanism of the EIB suffers from limitations on seeking redress for violations of the right to information due to the procedure being unduly cumbersome and time-consuming.
  • At the same time, other legal mechanisms or institutions responsible for overseeing the EIB’s operations are difficult for citizens to access. The limited mission of the European Ombudsman is also problematic in the context of access to information appeals. It is perhaps significant that the Ombudsman has so far not found the EIB to be responsible for “maladministration” in even a single case. ?

(4) Stakeholder engagement and public consultations

– ? The EIB should respect its commitment to engage stakeholders as constructively as possible. CSOs should be involved in the Bank’s policy processes by default, and measures should be taken to enable participation by CSOs in drafting and preparation of policy documents. Public consultations should not be restricted to a limited (or selected) number of documents and policies, but should be conducted for all of the Bank’s plans, policies and strategic documents.

– ?On a project level, the policy imposes binding requirements in terms of outreach, accessibility, format and frequency of consultation and participation of stakeholders on project implementers and financial intermediaries.

The groups asked for a second round of consultations, complaining that the short notice for the July 10 meeting did not allow for sufficient and sound consultation with civil society.

Signatories are: Article 19, Centre for Law and Democracy, Counter Balance, ?Eurodad, IBIS,?The Global Transparency Initiative, WWF and EPO.

 

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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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