Transparency and the European
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is an institution of which many European citizens are barely aware. This is a matter for concern, given that it is the house bank of the European Union and the world’s largest public international financial institution. It has an increasing lending portfolio currently in excess of €45 billion and operates across the globe, financing a range of projects both in the EU and in developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia.
Despite the importance of the EIB’s lending activities the bank is not accountable to the public. Civil society is given no opportunity to evaluate the projects it finances or review the way that it monitors loans already apportioned. The public cannot therefore ensure that the protection of the environment and human rights are considered effectively. The bank’s lack of transparency has meant that it is able to fund projects throughout the world without public consultation on the environmental and human effects of the initiatives.
The bank’s funding sets the agenda in many arenas. In its transport lending policy, for example, it has signalled its intention to continue financing roads and airports on top of the €40 billion loans provided to European car makers. In Poland, the bank has financially supported the construction of the A1 motorway. Sections between Gda?sk and Stryk√≥w in the north of Poland cut through six existing and planned Natura 2000 sites, including the Lower Vistula Valley and three major east-west corridors of European importance for the migration of animals. Possible alternative routes for the key sections have been neglected, as has the required assessment of impacts on Natura 2000 sites. The EIB decided to support the construction of the motorway while ignoring the legal deficiencies in its appraisal procedure.
A second example is Slovakia’s D1 motorway, which links its two biggest cities, Bratislava and Kosice, through the northern part of the country. The route forms part of the Trans European Corridor V, the most controversial section of which lies between Sverepec and Vrtizer. Along this 9.6-kilometre section, a flyover bridge is projected to run 40 metres above residential houses in the city of Povazska Bystrica. If a construction permit is issued for the proposed motorway the homes of people living in these areas will be expropriated. The EIB risks backing a violation of international human rights and environmental conventions if it grants a loan for the construction of five new sections of the D1 motorway.
We at ClientEarth believe it is vital that the public be allowed to appraise and challenge the operations of institutions such as the EIB. The institutions that are financing projects also have to be made accountable for the way they spend their money. We are developing our work in this area to increase the degree by which such government actors’ decisions, processes and attitudes are influenced by those who their actions affect. There is therefore an urgent need to increase the pressure that has already been exerted by existing groups such as Bankwatch and the newly established NGO coalition, Counterbalance, on the EIB to incite the necessary reforms.
Our work on the EIB falls within our Environmental Justice programme and complements our work on corporate transparency. Through our work in this field we hope to lay the EIB open to scrutiny and thereby improve its environmental and social behaviour. Our approach in this arena is broadly based upon the Aarhus Convention, signed by the EU and its member states, which identifies the human rights of access to information, participation in decision making and access to justice.