After meeting with EU finance ministers on Friday at an informal gathering of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council in Ghent, Belgium, EIB President Nadia Calviño held a press conference to discuss the EIB Group's ambitious plans with a focus on eight core priorities.

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  Replay the livestream of the press conference

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>@Ricardo Harris/EIB

I very much welcome the constructive and fruitful discussion we had today, during this informal Ecofin under the Belgian presidency, of our ambitious strategy to build on the strengths of the EIB Group, to focus on eight policy priorities and to deploy the potential of the Group to the maximum, with a view to achieving the objectives of the European Union and supporting European priorities. There was very strong support for this strategy by the ministers around the table, which of course is extremely useful for us to continue and launch a number of workstreams in the coming weeks.

Europe is at a crossroads

The European Union is at a crossroads, and some important decisions have been taken in recent weeks which increase the ability of the EIB Group to act, and that show that, when we work together, when we act in a decisive and united manner, we can lead the way. And that is very much the conviction behind the strategy that we presented today, which is the result of a very intense exchange with stakeholders, starting with Members States.

Since I took office at the beginning of January this year, I have visited a number of capitals and spoken to many stakeholders with a view to identifying what should be the priorities for the European Investment Bank Group. All these exchanges have shown that there is a strong determination to make our union a better, a greener, a safer and fairer place to live. Amidst current geopolitical uncertainties, there is also a strong determination to strengthen Europe’s role in the world, with support for Ukraine as one of our top priorities.

Our discussions have revolved around three key elements:

  • how to build on the strengths of the EIB Group
  • how to focus on eight policy priorities
  • how to deploy the full potential of the EIB as the financing arm of the EU

With a balance sheet of around €600 billion, a strong capital position, an AAA rating, and a strong potential to catalyse private investment, the EIB Group is clearly a very powerful tool. Combined with strong technical expertise and a track record of investment in major infrastructure, climate and innovation, this provides a very strong basis for gearing up the activities of the EIB Group in the coming years.

The EIB Group delivered excellent results in 2023, with a total of €88 billion in signed operations, of which more than 90% were inside the EU. More than 50% of these investments were devoted to climate change. The EIB Group has established itself as the climate bank and a pathfinder for new, innovative financial instruments that can support the twin green and digital transitions, and that allows projects to take place and that makes things happen on the ground.

Going forward, there is a unanimous appreciation on the side of governors and finance ministers that the EIB Group can play an even more impactful role to address the main challenges that the EU is facing. There’s an understanding that climate, cohesion and competitiveness are inseparable, and we have to see how to bind them together and to drive them in a manner that makes the green transition a European success. This is at the root of the eight policy priorities that I presented today and that were strongly endorsed by the finance ministers.

First of all, consolidating the climate bank so that we gear up investment in adaptation, mitigation and the energy transition. In this regard, we will continue to support investments in all relevant technologies as foreseen in our mandate.

Ministers welcomed our proposal for a new Water Programme to help cities, regions and businesses, especially farmers and the agriculture sector, manage the impact of drought and floods and increase the efficiency of water cycle management. We are also going to work on a new programme — on SME energy efficiency — to scale up a core group of green technologies that are economically profitable and that can have a material impact on energy efficiency in Europe.

The second priority is accelerating digitalisation and technological innovation. And in this regard, we discussed the need for Europe’s re-industrialisation in those sectors that are key for our strategic autonomy and economic security, such as chips, artificial intelligence, life sciences, state-of-the-art manufacturing, advanced materials, and a strong focus on critical raw materials and net-zero technologies so as to ensure resilient value chains.

We are already financing cutting-edge projects such as the Northvolt circular battery factory in Sweden and Europe’s largest solar panel manufacturer in Italy. And there are also some projects under assessment in the area of critical raw materials inside the EU. The launch of a new “FASTER programme” will help us to accelerate digitalisation and technological innovation inside the EU.

The third priority is stepping up investments in security and defence. It is clear that there is a need to reinforce Europe’s security and defence industry. The EIB has been investing in security and defence for the past eight years. We have funded projects with the largest European players in the areas of new technologies, critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, space, dual-use technologies and equipment. And this includes dual-use drones and border-protection systems. These are critical infrastructures and are two of the top priorities for frontline countries, as I have been able to appreciate in my visits to the Nordic Baltic region last week.

The Strategic European Security Initiative (SESI) — created in the European Investment Bank Group to support security and defence investment — was upgraded to €8 billion in 2023, of which only €2 billion has been invested so far. And we just launched, via the European Investment Fund, the €175 million Defence Equity Initiative to support startups and SMEs in this area.

As I have said since I took office in the beginning of January, we are ready to do more to contribute to joint projects that boost the European industry and reinforce Europe’s protection and deterrence:

  • We are already engaging with the Commission and other key stakeholders on the scope and definition of dual-use technologies and equipment. Today, we have agreed in the meeting that I will report back in two months on the status of these ongoing discussions, and work with other key stakeholders on the scope and definition of dual-use technologies and equipment.
  • We also agreed to work together to streamline processes, with a one-stop shop for security and defence projects, so that we can accelerate the deployment of the €6 billion in investments that remain under the SESI initiative.
  • And there has been strong endorsement also for the strategy of the bank to reinforce our partnerships and build new ones, for example with NATO, in order to see how to contribute to these very important European priorities.

Fourth priority — contributing to a modern cohesion policy. It is clear that a Just Green Transition requires investments to support the most affected sectors and territories, especially those that are heavily dependent on carbon-intensive activities. And so the European Investment Bank has an important role to play in this regard.

Fifth priority — developing innovative financing for agriculture and the bioeconomy. The agriculture sector plays a key role in the green transition, Europe’s food security and strategic autonomy. So we are going to look at how to maximise the impact of our instruments and find synergies with the Common Agricultural Policy. And we are going to explore possible additional products, for example in the area of insurance, since a European insurance policy could support the agriculture sector in the area of climate adaptation, mitigation and the green transition more generally.

The sixth priority we discussed is gearing up investment in social infrastructure, such as education and skills, health and affordable housing, which is a key challenge in many Member States. We are going to see, together with Member States, how to scale up our activities in in these areas.

The seventh priority is pioneering the Capital Markets Union. We have agreed to launch some workstreams so that the European Investment Bank can leverage and can also pioneer new EU instruments that can form the building blocks of a real Capital Markets Union.

And finally, last but not least, we agreed to focus on activities outside the EU. And support to Ukraine is obviously a top priority, as is a successful enlargement process and ensuring stability and prosperity in our neighbourhood, and a focus on delivering the EU’s Global Gateway strategy outside Europe.

Now, the new initiatives we put on the table — the water programme, SME efficiency, contribution to the Capital Markets Union, investments in climate change, in digitalisation and new technologies, the FASTER programme — all these new initiatives that we will work on in the coming weeks and months will be followed up in the regular Board of Governors meetings and will be followed up regularly here at the Ecofin meetings.

The final point we discussed is how to deploy the full potential of the EIB Group, how to maximise the impact of our capital, preserving, of course, the AAA rating of the EIB, which allows us to provide funding in good financial conditions, how to cut red tape, increase the efficiency of the EIB Group, and the ability to catalyse private investment. This, in a nutshell, has been the very constructive and very fruitful exchange I’ve had with finance ministers. We will review regularly where we are with this strategic approach.

Europe has shown time and again its ability to adjust to new situations while preserving its core values and working together in a clear manner and with a clear strategy. We will make sure that the EIB Group is not only a key player, but is a very strong contributor to helping Europe succeed in the many challenges around us and reinforce its voice in the world in the current geopolitical environment.