Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

EU lays out investment priorities for Juncker plan

  • Developing drones could be one of the projects eligible for funding (Photo: Marion Doss)

The EU commission on Tuesday (9 December) gave a first flavour of what kind of projects could be financed by the new €315bn investment fund scheduled to become operational mid-2015.

In a report written jointly with the European Investment Bank and with input from member states, the commission 'task force' listed about 2,000 projects worth €1.3 trillion in investments which could be eligible for the new funding scheme.

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Apart from hundreds of pages of national projects sent in by governments, the report also listed cross-border projects in the fields of research, transport, energy - for instance a €400 million project on drones involving all member states.

EU officials involved in the drafting of the report told journalists there is no guarantee the listed projects will actually get selected once the fund is set up.

Some of the projects sent in by member states will clearly not be eligible, for instance a British flood prevention project, which will be 100 percent publicly funded.

"The aim of this scheme is to attract private investments, so projects need to be public-private partnerships," an EU official said.

Other projects listed drew criticism from green NGOs.

“There is a huge amount of coal plants being proposed by the various countries, including Poland, Croatia and Romania, and this is in full contradiction not only to EU goals but also to Juncker’s rhetoric on sustainability,” said Markus Trilling from Bankwatch, an NGO monitoring EIB funding in central and eastern Europe.

The European business community reacted more positively.

“We believe the length and breadth of the taskforce’s list illustrates well the wide-ranging investment needs in Europe", said James Watson, Director for Economic Affairs of Business Europe representing companies across the continent.

The group warned that financial constraints as well as red tape risk diluting the positive effect of the fund.

"We support (member states') observation of the need to create a more conducive business environment as well as address unnecessary regulatory burdens,” Watson told EUobserver.

Fund still needs to be set up

The list will be used for a "project pipeline" - a website and database wanting to be a first-stop shop for investors willing to spend money on projects in Europe. It is unclear whether it will be the EU commission or the EIB managing the website. Some member states, notably the UK, already have similar 'pipelines' at national level- which will be linked to from the EU website.

The EU commission plans to put forward legislation in January, with the aim of setting up the new "European Strategic Investment Fund" by June.

So far, the funding is based on a €16bn guarantee by the EU commission (out of which only €8bn is 'real' money from the EU budget, plus a €5bn guarantee by the EIB. This money will be used to raise €60bn which will be handed out in loans for selected projects.

The logic is that if the 'seed money' is used to cover for the riskiest parts of the projects, it will attract private investors who otherwise would not chip in - reaching a total of €315bn.

Under the commission's proposal, there will be no sums earmarked for the various priorities (innovation, transport, energy, infrastructure), nor will each country have a certain share of the funding.

The commission, backed by countries like Germany and the Netherlands, wants to have an "independent committee" in charge of selecting the projects based solely on their quality and impact on economic growth and jobs.

Member states however will have a representative on the board of governors of this EIB-based fund, just as the EIB as a whole has.

But the commission says this board will only set the "broad priorities" for the fund and not be involved in the selection of individual projects.

Draft conclusions prepared by ambassadors ahead of an EU summit next week welcome the first step in the creation of the new fund, but spare no words on its governance.

"The EIB Group is invited to start activities using its own funds as of January 2015, taking into account the pipeline of projects included in the report by the joint Commission/EIB Task Force. Member states, national promotional banks and private investors are encouraged to contribute to the EFSI," the draft conclusions read.

EU leaders are also set to support the commission and the EIB in setting up an "investment advisory hub" to help with the handling of complex projects, also starting mid-2015.

Reforming the national laws for investments and cutting back red tape are also seen as essential in improving the investment climate in Europe.

Philippe Gijsels, chief strategy officer with BNP Paribas Fortis, told this website that the Juncker plan is part of a "bargain": the European Central Bank is buying some time, the plan aims to boost investments, but national governments also need to implement reforms so that the EU economy starts growing again.

"The only problem is there is not much cash from governments in this fund. I can understand the criticism, but I am not that negative. In fact, there is a lot of cash on the corporate side, so it's good to come up with ideas to mobilise it. But it remains to be seen if what was presented today will convince them," Gijsels said.

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