On Tuesday 2 February 2021, the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) organised the annual seminar between its Board of Directors and civil society. It is the only forum where members of the EIB Board of Directors meet with external stakeholders.
Considering the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the EIB decided to maintain the seminar but in an online format. If such a change comes with limitations, it also has real advantages. While the event had to be shorten to 2 hours, being online allowed reaching out to an unprecedented number of more than 140 civil society representatives taking part in the seminar from 5 continents. The Board of Directors was therefore able to benefit from a wealth of expertise and a diversity of views on key topics for the Bank.
The seminar was opened by EIB President Werner Hoyer who highlighted the value of this event. He emphasised that when facing the emergency of a pandemic as well as complex and intricate challenges such as tackling climate change, promoting sustainable development, and supporting innovation, the key to success is to maintain a long-term vision and to work together.
This message was echoed by EIB Vice-President Thomas Östros who invited civil society representatives to contribute to the ongoing public consultation on the EIB Group Transparency Policy, and by EIB Secretary General Marjut Falkstedt when detailing the up-coming public consultations on the EIB Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework, as well as the EIB Transport Lending Policy.
Civil society representatives actively responded to this invitation to engage with the EIB Board of Directors both through their oral and written questions and statements.
Strengthening the Climate Bank Roadmap
Acknowledging the collective effort made in 2020 to develop the Climate Bank Roadmap, civil society representatives focused on the challenges ahead for 2021 and beyond.
Among the many contributions made during the first thematic session dedicated to the implementation of the Climate Bank Roadmap, one of the main topics of discussion focused on the Bank’s lending in the transport sector. Support to airports, motorways, and travel in general were questioned by civil society, who already anticipated some of their contributions to the up-coming public consultation on the Transport Lending Policy.
In addition, participants called on the Bank to assess its support to the food industry including with an agro-ecology perspective. The Bank was also asked to extend the remit of its appraisals to go beyond projects and to re-consider its engagement with heavy polluting/carbon-heavy clients.
Alongside climate, the protection and promotion of biodiversity was high on the participants’ agendas. It included calls to stop supporting small and medium hydropower plants and to focus instead on river restoration.
These exchanges are of particular relevance ahead of the public consultation on the EIB Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework foreseen this year.
A focus on human rights
While the second thematic session included climate considerations, particularly in relation to the specific exposure of least developed countries to climate change, the main topic was the protection and promotion of human rights.
Anticipating forthcoming public consultations, civil society representatives called on the Bank to strengthen its approach to human rights. At project level, the protection of labour rights was questioned, and it was suggested to organise on-site joint inspections with workers’ representatives. The risk of reprisal for people directly affected by projects, its prevention, and remediation was also discussed.
More broadly, civil society representatives asked the Bank to consider the whole supply chain of the projects it supports. Severe human rights violations such as forced labour can exist upstream even for climate friendly projects. Finally, testimonies were given about shrinking space for civil society and limited freedom of speech in some countries where the Bank is investing.
Matching ambitions and accountability
The last session was open to any topic that had not been discussed before. Discussions touched upon a large variety of themes such as animal welfare, the implementation of the EIB Group Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, or the value of Public-Private Partnerships.
Representatives of civil society expressed their willingness to see an increase in the quality of the Bank’s accountability framework. In particular, they are looking forward to the outcome of the review process of the EIB Group Anti-Fraud Policy that is foreseen early in 2021. They also insisted on the importance of increasing the transparency of intermediated financing activities, particularly through investment funds, both from a climate and human rights perspective.
Over more than 2 hours, these exchanges gave the opportunity to the Board of Directors to reiterate the value given to civil society feedback and inputs, and to hear about the key elements that civil society representatives would like to see discussed in the forth-coming public consultations.
The EIB would like to thank all the participants for their continued engagement and the meaningful exchanges that took place during the seminar.