Joint CSO Submission on the Draft Revised Version of the EIB Transparency Policy
Study | 11 March 2021
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is currently revising its transparency standards. Its proposal for a revised Transparency Policy (draft TP) is under public consultation until 12 March 2021.
While we appreciate the EIB’s initiative to review its Transparency Policy, we have serious concerns regarding the consequences of adopting the proposed transparency standards for the EIB’s activities.
As further explained below, the proposal would lower the existing level of transparency on important points, it would not ensure the same level of transparency as other IFIs and it would fail to heed consistent calls of the European Parliament and civil society organizations to improve transparency in its activities.
THE PROPOSAL WOULD REDUCE THE CURRENT LEVEL OF TRANSPARENCY
Even if the EIB is promoting the current revision as enhancing transparency, the draft TP would actually lower the existing level of transparency. Most importantly:
No clear standard for active dissemination of information: The draft TP proposes to revise the wording as to which documents are to be published in the EIB Register in respect of envisaged investments, eliminating specific documents that are essential and relevant (e.g., Environmental and Social Impact Study/ Statement). Furthermore, the list of documents related to envisaged projects that must be published is to be elaborated in the context of an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, and not directly in the TP. This does not ensure open and transparent access to information concerning the EIB’s envisaged investment projects. A minimum list of mandatory documents which must be published in the EIB Register for all envisaged investment projects should be expressly provided in the TP (see annex, section 3 & 4).
Wider exceptions to disclosures of information/documents: Furthermore, should the proposal of the draft TP be adopted in its current state, the EIB would be able to withhold more documents from disclosure. For instance, the draft TP seeks to enlarge in a non-exhaustive manner the information/documents that are protected on the ground of protection of commercial interests. This exception must be applied strictly, only in cases where it can be demonstrated that an actual and specific risk of undermining the commercial interest exists in a foreseeable, not only hypothetical, way. The EIB does not have unrestricted discretion in applying the exceptions for withholding information (see annex, section 2).
Less obligations on project promoters. The draft TP would remove an obligation on promoters to make Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and related documents publicly available. Given the importance of providing affected people with information on EIB operations, this would be a significant setback in terms of transparency (annex, section 6).
EIB’S TRANSPARENCY STANDARD LOWER THAN OTHER IFIs’
The current EIB standards are already low in comparison to the transparency standards that other IFIs are applying. According to the Aid Transparency Index, in 2020 EIB’s transparency practices scored only 58.9/100 points, by contrast to other IFIs, some of which reached even 98/100 points.
To raise its standard to those of the other IFIs, the EIB should, for example, start publishing project environmental and social documents in advance of project approval in order to give civil society an opportunity to express opinion directly to the bank (annex, section 4) and start publishing information on the allocation list of final beneficiaries of intermediary finance operations (annex, section 7). Moreover, it should also change its practice and start publishing meeting agendas of the EIB governing bodies in a timely manner and not only a couple of days in advance (annex, section 3). This is a common practice among other IFIs, which have a more open manner of performing their specific financial activities.
FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RECOMMENDATIONS
The EIB’s proposal also fails to heed repeated calls from the European Parliament to raise the bar on transparency. In its 2019 Annual Report, the European Parliament called on the EIB to review its transparency policy with a view to “the timely publication of more ample information on all its financing activities” (para. 79). As explained above, the current proposal would not ensure the timely publication of more ample information.
The same report urged the Bank to ensure the highest level of integrity of its financial intermediaries, and to guarantee that financial intermediary loans be subject to the same transparency requirements as other types of loans (para. 81). Despite this, the draft TP does not bring any improvements in relation to intermediary financed operations (annex, section 7). The draft TP equally fails to heed the Parliament’s call “for more transparency concerning the meetings of the Management Committee and their outcomes” (para. 77 – annex section 3).
The revision of the Transparency Policy is a great chance to improve participatory decision-making processes and governance, help fight corruption, identify potential social, economic and environmental benefits as well as avoid adverse impacts on communities and sensitive ecosystems. However, to realize this potential, the current draft needs to be substantially amended. If it is maintained, the EIB will further fall behind its peer institutions and fail to ensure much needed accountability to EU citizens.