EIB President Werner Hoyer's acceptance speech at the European Banker of the year award ceremony, June 28 2021.


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Madam President, Ms von der Leyen,

Mr Scholz,

Mr Storbeck,

Members of the Group of 20+1,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your kind words.

I’m overwhelmed.

After more than 30 years in politics, the idea of receiving the “European Banker of the Year” award and to be following in the footsteps of such accomplished bankers as Jean-Pierre Mustier, Axel Weber and Jean-Claude Trichet is still difficult for me to believe.

With a dose of humility – but great joy too – I am delighted to accept this title. I know that the award is not for me, but my organisation and its almost 4 000 employees in Luxembourg and all over the world.

I also believe that the difference between politics and finance is not as great as it might appear at first sight – even though neither side likes to hear it.

This is, of course, particularly true of an organisation like the EIB... 

... and our national partners, such as KfW in Germany and the regional promotional institutions...

... whose mission is to use financial resources specifically in areas where taking action serves the common good...

... and where the market alone cannot succeed.

As a liberal market economist, the last point is extremely important to me: the intervention of a public bank like the EIB must always be clearly justified.

We must be a crowding-in institution, instead of competing with the private sector. This is the only way to ensure that our financing genuinely adds value.

This is not mere lip service, ladies and gentlemen. As part of our Additionality and Impact Measurement Framework, each and every project to be financed by the EIB is subject to a preliminary assessment to ascertain whether and to what our extent our intervention will add value.

If we are not convinced by the assessment’s conclusion at this juncture, the project will not be financed.

A topical example, which is also a burning issue, of where the intervention of a public bank such as the EIB makes particular sense is, in my opinion, the climate: we all know that the years leading up to 2030 are our last chance to avert a catastrophe.

The International Energy Agency recently estimated that the widespread lockdowns to curb the pandemic cut carbon emissions by around 8% last year.

If we are to succeed in limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C – the goal we set five years ago in Paris...

... our emissions must be reduced by the same extent every single year over the next decade.

It should be clear to everyone that this cannot be achieved by changing our behaviour and introducing bans, and certainly not by imposing lockdowns. Instead, massive investment in new technologies is needed... 

... technologies that for the most part do not exist yet...

... but that do bring enormous opportunities. Especially now, since countries which, combined, account for more than half of the world’s total emissions have already committed themselves to climate neutrality.

However, these innovations will not appear on their own.

Any economist will tell you that the overall economic benefits of investment in innovation usually significantly exceed the commercial return. Market failures will therefore occur – especially in the early phase of development – and this leads to underinvestment.

This problem is currently exacerbated by massive uncertainty in the market. I’m not talking about investment risks that can be quantified by probabilities, but about a deep-seated sense of insecurity...

... which has taken hold in certain parts of our economy and in some areas created a form of paralysis...

Stretched corporate balance sheets also contribute to underinvestment. Our annual survey of more than 12 000 companies in Europe has revealed that after one-and-a-half years of the COVID-19 crisis, many business owners are faced with the choice of investing in their companies’ long-term competitiveness...

... or improving their short-term chances of survival by making spending cuts.

For most of them, the answer is obvious: wait and see what happens.

The consequence is that although everyone knows – and says – that we urgently need to invest more, especially in innovation…

... although a huge market of the future is developing, especially in the field of sustainable technologies

... and although we have no shortage of liquidity thanks to the European Central Bank’s very accommodative monetary policy...

... we are investing far too little.

Our Economics Department puts the investment gap in the climate alone at around €350 billion per year.

What is particularly worrying is that we are not only investing less than we need to, we are also investing much less than most of our international competitors. 

For 16 years now, we have spent around 1.5 percentage points of GDP less on research and development every year than our competitors in Asia or North America.

Here, an institution such as the EIB, which is essentially a hybrid of politics and finance, can – and must – complement policies such as promoting fundamental research, setting a CO2 price, or introducing certain regulations...

... by providing support that targets promising innovation projects.

And that is exactly what we are doing with, for example, our investment in Portugal’s first floating wind farm and the first gigafactory for lithium-ion batteries in Sweden, or our support for hydrogen applications for steel production in Luxembourg.

Our goal is always to help make innovative projects market-ready through bespoke advisory and financing products... 

... and, through the involvement of the private sector, to catalyse billions of euros of investment year after year.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Many of you know the EIB as the EU climate bank, not least as a result of our resounding “no” to financing fossil fuel-based energy projects.

Making this decision was no easy task for us or for our shareholders, the EU Member States.

But I hope that it is a decision that will send out a signal for others. And we can already see signs that this is the case.

I am firmly convinced that investments in coal and gas will not secure growth in the long term, but end up becoming stranded assets...

... and that the decision we took in autumn 2019 was not ideological, but economically sound – and, incidentally, politically necessary.

What not many of you might know is that the EIB is much more than just a climate bank. We are also the EU innovation bank – with the largest portfolio of innovation projects held by any multilateral development bank.

And we are the EU development bank, lending €10 billion beyond the European Union every year.

For me, it is very important to highlight this wide range of activities. Because in everything we do, I think our focus must always be on the three key goals of climate, innovation and development.

Unfortunately, we tend to think in just one of these categories.

Only if we manage to work and succeed on all three fronts together will we have a chance of transitioning towards a sustainable economic system...

... and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to which the international community has solemnly committed itself.  

In addition to our financial firepower, the EIB’s great strength – and I am allowed to say this today – lies in our unique technical expertise.

At the Bank, an army of top engineers and scientists puts every single project through its paces...

... which ensures the project’s sustainability...

... and also its debt sustainability.

Even though the Bank enjoys strong shareholder support, it is this process that ensures its good standing on the capital markets despite its relatively low capitalisation.

Our engineers’ technical due diligence also contributes to significant knowledge transfer both within and beyond the European Union.

Because this much is clear, ladies and gentlemen: if we leave it up to China and Russia to meet the rising demand for energy in Africa instead of forging ahead with our own European technologies there, then our climate targets will literally go up in smoke.

The Bank’s scientific expertise has also recently paid off in the field of life sciences.

I am very proud that we at the Bank, with the European Commission, were among the first to support BioNTech in developing its COVID-19 vaccine...

... and could therefore contribute to the determined and effective fight against the pandemic.

We were able to act so quickly because our experts had known the company for a long time: we had already supported its cancer research several years ago. 

When the company came back to us in early 2020 and said: “We believe that with our new mRNA technology for treating cancer, we might also have an effective instrument for developing a COVID-19 vaccine”...

... our in-house experts were fully prepared, and we were able to release the necessary resources quickly.

This expertise is now in demand again for increasing production capacity for vaccines in Africa.

Because, just as with climate change, “no one is safe until everyone is safe.

This is why we are working very closely on the issue with the European Commission, Gavi and the Gates Foundation. But it is also very clear that this is only the beginning.

I urge politicians everywhere to move forward quickly, as we are in a race against time.

Having served in the German foreign office for many years, this is something that is very close to my heart, as securing vaccines and production capacities on our neighbouring continent is about much more than just ethical and health policy considerations.

It’s about how we as Europeans want to position ourselves in a globalised world...

... and how we as the “West” want to counter the questionable – and often ambiguous – vaccination diplomacy of Russia and China.

We must not underestimate this global dimension. 

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

As relieved as we can all be that we are finally making progress in the fight against COVID-19 – at least here in Europe –

we must prepare ourselves for future health crises today.

I’m thinking specifically of antimicrobial resistance.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus recently compared antimicrobial resistance to a slow tsunami – less visible than COVID-19, but much more deadly in the long run.

Antimicrobial resistance threatens the progress of modern medicine.

Without effective antibiotics, routine medical procedures such as tooth extractions, appendectomies and caesarean sections will become difficult and dangerous. And that’s even before we mention more complex procedures such as organ transplants or cancer treatments.

Reliable forecasts suggest that infectious diseases could cause more deaths than cancer and cardiovascular disease in 2050.

There has already been an enormous rise in antibiotic resistance in emerging countries such as India, with this trend being increasingly observed in developed countries in Europe and in the United States as well.

It is therefore extremely important that we take swift measures to counter it, and that we develop financing concepts that will help us to produce new antibiotics that remain effective.

This is no easy feat when the goal is use these antibiotics as little as possible.  

That’s why it is once again so important for politicians, an institution like the EIB and the private sector to join forces.

Because without risk coverage from the EU budget or national budgets, our investment activity would also be limited.

I would therefore like to thank you, Ms von der Leyen, for your excellent ongoing cooperation and support for the Bank.

Without the European Commission and the mandates it grants us, many of the groundbreaking investments we have made in recent years – be they in the area of climate, health, innovation or development – would simply not have been possible.

As Team Europe, we are “more than the sum of our individual parts,” as you once so nicely put it. And I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Our cooperation – and I think I can share this today – actually goes back a long way. I don’t know if you remember, Ms von der Leyen, but one of the most successful EIB initiatives was actually the result of a chance meeting with you.

I had recently resigned from the German cabinet and had started working in Luxembourg, and you were Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth...

... when we crossed paths on the stairs in front of the Bundestag plenary chamber.

I was on my way to the chancellor’s Bundestag office and was in a bit of a hurry...

... when you called after me and said: “Mr Hoyer, what exactly are you doing in Luxembourg? Can the EIB not do more to fight youth unemployment in Europe? The Commission’s proposals in this area are not ambitious enough for me.”

A few months later, we launched the Investing for Youth programme, which provides strong incentives for businesses – especially small and medium businesses – to give young people an opportunity to enter the job market...

... a programme that later turned out to be a huge success.

As you can see, great ideas don’t always have to come from elevator pitches. Sometimes they can come from stairwell pitches, or even pitches on the stairs of the Bundestag.J

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

In a perfect world, politics and finance don’t just complement each other – they also learn from each other.

As someone who has been able to experience both, I can tell you that investors and politicians don’t always think in the same way.

Investors systematically expect part of their portfolio to fail. If none of their investments fail, it means they weren’t taking enough risks to get a good return.

Or in the case of the EIB, to create high value added for society as a whole.

Things are different in politics, and a mistake will have the press all over you.

I think politics could learn a thing or two from the financial industry...

... and I would also like journalists to take a more global perspective every now and then when it comes to reporting on day-to-day political business, instead of focusing on isolated individual affairs.

We cannot live by a no failure policy. Instead, we should learn from venture capitalists in the English-speaking world...

... when it comes to accepting failure as a natural part of our work...

... and help people who have failed to get up, roll up their sleeves, learn from their mistakes and start again.

So that covers what politics can learn from the financial industry.

But what can the financial industry learn from politics?

Let me say this: the financial industry can at the very least learn from the “good” in politics – that we must never take our freedom, our values and our prosperity for granted...

... and that it is the duty of each and every one of us to fight for this, every single day.

And I don’t only mean here in Germany or in the European Union, but in democracies all over the world.

The events following the presidential election in Washington are sad testimony to this. However clearly Donald Trump bears responsibility for the “storming of the Capitol,” it would be wrong to believe that he and his lack of respect for democracy are solely to blame for the recent events in DC.

Many commentators have rightly drawn parallels between the images from the United States and how demonstrators forced their way onto the steps of the German parliament building last summer – as well as the close links between the rioters in the US and the so-called “lateral thinkers” that we see protesting in the streets of Germany week after week.

We must not trivialise these movements. And we must ensure that autocrats and other enemies of an open democracy are not given a veneer of respectability by cooperating with them.

At the same time, however, there must be no suggestion that politics and business can simply disregard the supporters of these movements.

On the contrary: Hillary Clinton’s angry comment about the “basket of deplorables” corresponds exactly to the arrogant attitude we often see among the German and European elite as well…

... and that – just like some of the moral failings seen in the banking world in recent years – further fuels the feeling of “us against them.”

The financial industry has an important contribution to make here, especially when it comes to looking out for the losers of globalisation as well – much more than we did before – and providing them with career prospects and valuing their skills.

Of course, it is not enough to simply look at output legitimacy, but without a visible contribution to solving these problems from politics, business and civil society, we cannot hope to overcome the issue.

Without this contribution, the rifts that have opened up in our society since the global financial crisis, or possibly before, will widen even further. 

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, let me end with a plea to you all: a plea for more courage.

-         More courage to take risks to roll out technological breakthroughs and, for example, to develop technologies for a carbon-neutral and truly digital economy – and to finance them.

-         More courage to continue promoting European integration, because only together will we be able to assert our values and interests in an increasingly complex world.

-         And more courage to boldly tackle the great challenges of our time. Along with the transformation of our economy, this means tackling the feeling of being left behind experienced by parts of the population, and dealing with the extremely difficult health and economic situation in the EU Neighbourhood.

Together we can achieve so much, if only we have the courage to try.

But to do this, we must overcome the inertia of recent years – and face up to our responsibility for a society built on freedom and solidarity. 

I am sure that right now we cannot even imagine the opportunities that transforming our economy will bring, if only we were to actively seize them...

... or the stabilising role a strong European Union – with a clear external mandate – can play in a world where more than 80% of the population already live in autocratic or illiberal countries...

... or which markets could open up for us once we finally see our development financing as more than just charity.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Let’s show courage together. Let’s take responsibility by joining forces in politics, finance and civil society.

Thank you very much for this great honour.

Thank you, Ms von der Leyen, for your very moving words and for your proactive leadership at the helm of the European Union.

And of course thank you to all the employees of the EIB on behalf of whom I am accepting this award today.

Thank you for your attention.

Watch President Hoyer's acceptance speech at the European Banker of the year award ceremony