Wednesday, 4 June 2008

EIB at 50: Civil Society hopes for reforms

Environment and social campaign groups from across Europe marked the 50th anniversary celebrations of the European Investment Bank (EIB; see photo) this week by pointing out to the European Union's house bank that “Life begins at 50 - we hope.” The EIB has attracted sustained criticism from civil society organisations in Europe and across the world because of its non-transparent institutional nature, its lack of binding environmental and social standards—especially in its increasing lending activities in Africa, Asia and Latin America—and its continuing support for major fossil fuel extraction projects that undermine the bank's recent improved record in funding renewable energy projects. Desislava Stoyanova, co-ordinator of Counter Balance: Challenging the European Investment Bank, a new coalition of European NGOs concerned at the lending practices of the EIB, said: “We hope that the EIB has grown out of its youthful indulgences, backing dodgy projects without being accountable to anyone. Now that it’s entering middle age, the EIB will hopefully slow down and start to behave more responsibly.”

The EIB loaned EUR 48 billion of taxpayer-backed cash last year. At a series of actions in Luxembourg unofficially run in tandem with the EIB’s annual meeting of its board of governors, Counter Balance campaigners distributed spoof newspapers (“Luxemburger Wahl”) showing how things could look in the brave new world of the EIB’s more sustainable, small-scale, community-driven future. Anders Lustgarten of Counter Balance, in his ‘for one day only’ role of head of policy at the EIB, laid out a positive new vision for the EIB at two public press conferences in Luxembourg. The EIB’s ‘new’ policies include: phasing out its major involvement in fossil fuels and extractive industries; providing effective aid support in line with EU policies that prioritises people on the ground; ruling out potential funding support for the nuclear industry; ensuring that its future investments in the transport sector are ‘carbon negative’.

Prince Kumwamba, of Congolese NGO ACIDH which has criticised the EIB over its role in the highly controversial Tenke Fungurume copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said: “These changes at the EIB sound absolutely wonderful, and are at long last in line with what Southern communities and economies really need, rather than some huge oil field or open cast mine that creams off our natural resources with little accruing to us except clean-up costs. When these policies become reality, we will truly have something to celebrate.”

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