Odile Renaud-Basso, newly elected president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Photo by: Ike Hayman / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

BRUSSELS — Odile Renaud-Basso became the first woman elected to lead the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on Thursday, vowing “commitment, transparency and consensus building.”  

The 55-year-old beat Polish finance minister Tadeusz Kościński in a secret ballot of the bank’s governors, representing the 71 shareholders. Italian Member of Parliament and former Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan withdrew from the race earlier this week after the Frenchwoman reportedly won over those countries with the largest stake and hence voting share, including the U.S., Germany, and Japan. 

Renaud-Basso told reporters that she expects to begin her four-year term in early November.

A graduate of France’s prestigious École Nationale d’Administration and the Harvard Kennedy School, she has led the French treasury since 2016, with previous stints at France’s public development bank, the Caisse des Dépôts, and as deputy chief of staff to former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. She also spent five years as director of the European Commission’s economic and financial affairs department in Brussels.

“The countries of operation of the EBRD are facing important challenges in the area of energy, and I think it’s a big responsibility of the bank to accompany them in the transition [to clean energy].”

— Odile Renaud-Basso, newly elected president, EBRD

That experience will be useful as EBRD vies with the European Investment Bank for a greater role in steering European development finance abroad. Consultants are working on a feasibility study for EU member states on the findings of a high-level wise persons’ report on the subject last October. However, the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic at home has dampened the appetite for a new EU development bank and led many to predict the most likely outcome is a “status quo-plus.”

“I think what is meant by ‘status quo-plus’ is to ensure that [EIB and EBRD] work together more closely, cooperate more, find a common approach and concrete ways to enhance complementarity and so forth,” Renaud-Basso told reporters, adding that discussions at EU-level were still “at an early stage.”

One insider told Devex: “What’s clear is that a French national will certainly help the bank position itself as European in Brussels circles and EU national capitals, starting from Paris. It shows that the bank is and remains very relevant for [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s strategy of stepping up European development finance.”

France will host a first-ever meeting of the world’s 450 public development banks next month, with a focus on climate action. Organizer Rémy Rioux, the head of the French Development Agency, has suggested the Finance in Common summit should also consider the future relationship between EIB and EBRD.

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Climate change was among the main items on the agenda of EBRD’s annual meeting this week as governors endorsed the bank’s strategy for the next five years, including a target of at least 50% of its investments going to the green economy by 2025.

Last year, the bank’s green action hit a high point of 46% of total investment, up from an average of 24% in the decade to 2015. That raised questions over whether the 50% target was sufficient.

“I really do want to encourage the bank, and other business leaders, and the EBRD’s shareholders, to be even more ambitious and even more radical,” Britain’s Prince Charles told the virtual meeting Wednesday. “This may not be the message you want to hear, but time is rapidly running out, believe you me, in which to make the long-overdue changes that are so utterly vital for our future.”

Jürgen Rigterink, the acting president at EBRD who will hand over to Renaud-Basso, told reporters that the bank’s green financing has again dipped below 30% so far this year amid a surge in overall investment.

“With our results this year, that one thing we were not able to do is the ‘building back better,’” Rigterink said.

“This year is a year where not always we could add conditionalities to our loans and our investments. This was a year when we actually had to make the difficult choice: Do we want to keep companies afloat, yes or no? But this is a temporary dip, we do expect that next year we will actually see an increase again [in green financing].”

Renaud-Basso defended the 50% target as “a step forward” that would not necessarily be easy to reach given the urgent needs to be addressed in the face of the pandemic.

“The countries of operation of the EBRD are facing important challenges in the area of energy, and I think it’s a big responsibility of the bank to accompany them in the transition,” she said Thursday.

“But we need also to take into account the current situation and for example in some countries very high reliance on coal still. So this requires a step-by-step approach. We need to have a clear objective and to provide both financing and policy advice to reach the [green financing] target and beyond, in line with the Paris Agreement.”

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.