Amsterdam/Prague, August 12, 2002 – During its Annual Press Conference in February the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced that it would set up a new environmental structure within the bank to better address environmental concerns in its lending. However, several NGOs recently received information showing that the whole process seems to entail merely cosmetic changes of the existing structure rather than real reform.

‘It’s old wine in a new bottle’, says Magda Stoczkiewicz, who heads the EIB reform campaign for CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth International. ‘The EIB claims to be undergoing major change by setting up three new environmental bodies, while at the same time only one additional person with any environmental expertise has been hired. The rest are the same engineers and economists as before’.

NGOs have strongly criticised the EIB’s environmental record, lack of clear environmental guidelines and policy of leaving all the responsibility for Environmental Impact Assessment compliance to the promoter. The environmental groups argue that when financing projects in such environmentally sensitive sectors as energy, water, waste or transport, the bank needs much more expertise and capacity for tackling environmental questions.

The EIB web site states: “Based on the experience of comparable financial institutions and its own expertise, which have guaranteed the Bank’s good environmental record in the past, the EIB’s Management Committee has endorsed three major developments: – establishment of a high-level, cross-Directorate environmental steering committee (ENVSC) to provide guidance to the Bank’s decision-making bodies on new key policy issues in this area as they arise; – strengthening of the environmental assessment capability of the Bank’s Projects Directorate by continuously developing methodologies and enhancing expertise through the setting-up of a specialised environmental assessment group (ENVAG); – creation of an environmental unit (ENVU), also within the Projects Directorate, as a focal point for the development and dissemination of the Bank’s environmental policies and procedures and responsible for nurturing existing and new external relations on the environment.”

Stoczkiewicz responds: “This would be a very welcome step in the EIB’s responsiveness towards environmental concerns, if only we could see real change with this new set-up. As far as we can tell, however, the bank’s environmental expertise has not really increased. There are three new bodies, but only one (!) new person has been hired, whose name has not been revealed to us, nor has the level of his or her environmental expertise. After the creation of ENVAG, the responsibility for EIAs still remains solely with the project promoter, who has an interest in receiving the loan. NGOs have pointed out this conflict of interest for the last five years and continue to demand a clear mechanism under which the bank could verify EIA quality.”

It is also interesting that the Bank does not seem to be looking for more environmental specialists to fulfil its growing needs with the new environmental structure. When searching through job opportunities at the bank one finds that the bank is proposing to hire more engineers and economists but no environmental specialists. “The bank still cannot understand that sustainable development – to which it should be committed under the EU Treaty – involves more than the size of sound barriers along highways. It will have to complement the new structure with concrete actions fostering sustainable development, something which we have yet to see”, concludes Stoczkiewicz.

Magda Stoczkiewicz
(+31) 20 622 13 69 or (+31) 652 41 03 23