ECOFIN put focus onto new EU Investment Fund

EU Ministers raise concerns over governance structure for new European Fund for Structural Investments (EFSI).

By Michael Wilson

17 Feb 2015

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On February 17, Ministers exchanged views on the proposed regulation for setting up the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). A summary can be found beneath.

The Latvian Representative outlined the state of play in the Council with regard to the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI). He explained that the discussion on EFSI had begun with a conversation with the EIB governors, and then moved onto discuss the remaining issues still outstanding. The proposal is a priority for the Presidency and noted the considerable progress made by the working group. He explained that it is expected that a general approach should be agreed in March. There is a common understanding that the fund should be a prominent instrument, he explained. He then adding that this decision should be reviewed over the first few years subject to an independent evaluation. There is also strong support for the Presidency opinion that the Commission proposal over budget funding is well balanced and should allow for a good negotiating position with the European Parliament. In terms of project selection criteria, he said that limiting the scope through excessive criteria was not helpful and that ,for the EFSI to be a success, European “added value” must be an important facet of the fund. He said that a number of issues requiring further work exist around EFSI governance; agreements between EIB and European Commission, accessibility to ESFI operations across the EU, listing the project pipeline issue and the role of national banks and investment platforms.

With regard to EFSI governance, the independence of the investment committee should be strengthened. What is to be covered by the EFSI agreement between the Commission and EIB, and what is to be decided by the co-legislators, is also an important topic for Ministers to discuss. It is important to receive this draft agreement from the European Commission by tomorrow morning at the latest, he said.

He noted concerns raised about the concentration of EFSI projects in specific areas and regions and said that this should not happen. More work is needed to specify the scope of the project pipeline and the role of national banks and investment platforms should also be clarified he said. Member States have lent support in principle to creating an advisory hub but they need more information on what it will do in practice and how useful this hub is to be.

Jyrki Katainen, Commission Vice-President for Growth and Jobs, said that the adoption of the internal approach on the file is within reach. He said that the Member State subscription to most points of the proposal is also pleasing. Projects must be selected on the basis of their own merits to attract outside (private) investment. There is no benefit in reallocating funds from other EU areas if it would constitute business as usual. He said that agreement on the size and financing of the EU Guarantee fund has been agreed. He welcomed some Member State commitments to co-financing through investment platforms. He said that he was confident that the €315 billion target investment was reachable.

Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank said that he too was optimistic that the EU could deliver on the Juncker plan. The Commission’s plan is part of a wider aim to boost competitiveness and this increase jobs, growth and confidence in the European economy. He said that the EIB contributes to the implementation of the investment plan, and noted that it stands ready to deliver on EFSI. It is vital to complete the necessary legal work to put the infrastructure ready and have EFSI in place by June. There is a procedural need for a Council Opinion to decide on either a comitology or regulatory procedure for the fund is better due to the timing constraints of these different procedures. The EIB will provide expertise if wanted here, he said. He complemented the Latvian Presidency for the work they had conducted on this front. He noted the swift work being done by the ad hoc investment fund Committee before outlining some comments on the remaining areas of contention.

In terms of EFSI governance, he explained that it was necessary to make best use of the EIB statute to facilitate the objectives of EFSI. He then said that at the Board of Governors meeting of the EIB, a concise and lean approach was felt to be necessary. On legal issues, he said the EFSI must catch the necessary elements here and advocated supporting Member States in their work on this front. He said that legal certainty is needed for the investment fund criteria as soon as possible to allow for funds to be released by the EIB immediately without having to wait for the EU Guarantee to be operational. The early implementation of the capital increase consequences will mean that projects can be brought on track before the regulation is completed in June.

With regard to Member State investment, he said that – despite low appetite at present – there may be a chance to encourage State participation through national platform banks. He noted interest by national promotional banks and private investors to be present at platform level. On achieving a geographical balance across the EU, he said that the EIB track record was the greatest method by which to give confidence that projects throughout all Europe, which are viable, are able to receive funding. In relation to reporting requirements he said that the implementation of EFSI is to be followed, albeit with a streamlined approach. He said that the EIB would do its best here. He then noted that the project pipeline is not a guarantee of funding, but instead represents a resource outlining what Member States consider to be their own investment needs. He said that he would be grateful if more private sector investment participants were used to create these pipelines.

The EIB has reorganised its advisory bodies to help reach the aims of the advisory hub operations. He reconfirmed the bank’s commitment to the EFSI fund.

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