Bankwatch Mail 61
Bankwatch Mail | 2 December 2014
The European Investment Bank has been at the heart of the EU’s Project Bonds Initiative – its inception and its so far troubled pilot phase. Bankwatch Mail 61 examines the infrastructure challenges facing us in Europe and beyond, questions whether mechanisms such as the European project bonds are an appropriate way to tap into money in financial markets, and provides an overview of the newly launched Juncker investment package, featuring another pivotal role for the EIB in the latest high-level effort to kick-start the European economy.
- A case of outrageous bad fortune, or a portent of things to come? The one thing that can be stated with any certainty about the collapsed Castor project, the underground gas storage plant in Vinaròs, Spain that was selected in 2013 as the lead-out project for the EU’s Project Bond Initiative (PBI), is that the Spanish government has put its citizens on the hook to cover a compensation package of EUR 1.35 billion to ESCAL UGS, the project promoter.
- Here we go again. Having been called upon to ramp up its investments in 2009 and 2010 as part of Europe’s initial financial crisis fire-fighting, and then in 2012 been a central cog in the EU’s ambitious but ultimately lacklustre ‘Growth Compact’, the European Investment Bank now finds itself at the heart of new European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s three-year drive to boost investment in Europe, as unveiled on November 26.
- In July 2013, the much-hyped joint European commission/EIB ‘Project Bond Initiative’ (PBI) had scarcely got off the ground – in its pilot phase at least – when unusual natural events took over. Work at the EUR 1.7 billion Castor underground gas storage plant off the coast of Valencia commenced in summer 2013. But by mid-September the Spanish government was forced to halt work at the plant after 220 mini earthquakes in the area were detected in less than a month. Local residents reported the tremors following injections of natural gas to prepare Castor for operations. Subsequent research has found that the gas injection provoked 1,000 earthquakes in the region.
- An unprecedented ruling and serious tough talking emanated from the European Ombudsman at the end of October following an investigation into the EIB’s involvement with a bridge construction project in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Describing the approach taken by the EIB in the case as “wholly unacceptable”, the Ombudsman’s conclusion pulled no punches in asserting that the bank’s “maladministration risks putting into question the European Union’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
- Operational transparency standards at the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development continue to deteriorate, according to the 2014 Aid Transparency Index (ATI) published in October by aid watchdog Publish What You Fund (PWYF).
- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has revealed, in a letter of late October to Bankwatch’s Slovak member group Friends of the Earth-CEPA, that the EnerCap Power Fund, a private equity investor, has pulled out of the controversial COGEN gas power plant being developed in the northern Slovakian town of Považský Chlmec.
- In October this year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) approved an up to EUR 50 million loan to a Belarusian subsidiary of the Austrian company Kronospan for the expansion of a particleboard facility at Smorgon in the Grodno region of Belarus. Belarus will provide a guaranteed return on investment for both Kronospan and the EBRD. With the country’s rich wood resources, generous state tax incentives, weak legal environment, toothless trade unions, cheap labour and a generally stifled civil society, the EBRD and its client are not likely to run into the same environmental and legal difficulties experienced by Kronospan in other eastern European countries.
- Road construction in Poland can be a cause for great controversy, particularly when incomprehensible road designs clash with nature.
- Pressure is mounting on the European Investment Bank to take swift action that addresses weaknesses in its policy on lending to businesses based in tax havens.
- The European Investment Bank, as the EU’s lending arm, needs a lending policy on climate protection which properly reflects the EU’s climate policies and legislation.