European Commission tells development banks to 'rely further on us'

Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships. Photo by: ECDPM via Twitter

BRUSSELS — The European Union commissioner for international partnerships told the bloc’s development banks that they should rely more on her department to direct their work.

Speaking to leaders from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the Association of European Development Finance Institutions during a webinar Friday, Jutta Urpilainen said the effort to act more coherently together — dubbed “Team Europe” by the European Commission — must “remain a true collective endeavor.”

The rivalry between EIB and EBRD resurfaced recently, with an expert report last year comparing the pros and cons of each taking on greater responsibility for the EU’s development work. And European development finance institutions are jockeying for access to guarantees backed by the EU budget as part of the commission’s plan to spur private investment in Africa and countries neighboring the bloc.

“We big organizations, really we are quite arrogant because we think we know it better, and this has to change a little bit.”

— Jürgen Rigterink, acting president, EBRD

“We will continue to rely on you as the crucial partners in the implementation of Team Europe-funded development activities in the coming years,” the former Finnish finance minister told the banks Friday. “But we will also need you to rely further on us. This implies aligning our priorities, communicating with each other, pursuing joint development objectives, bringing together our resources, and being accountable to each other, and of course, coordinating the implementation of our activities — not just at the headquarters level, but also on the ground.”

That’s a more explicit version of the commission’s initial response to last year’s Wise Persons Group report, where it floated the idea of a “comprehensive coordination mechanism” to guide EU investments abroad.

Friday’s event, “Team Europe: Joining Forces for Financing the Global Recovery,” was billed as a chance to discuss cooperation between the banks. Instead, at times, it highlighted disturbances in the force.

Let in late to the EIB-hosted webinar, Jürgen Rigterink, acting president of EBRD, joked that “I almost thought that I was on a blacklist from EIB, but luckily I am visible now.”

In discussions over the past year about the Wise Persons Group report with EU member states — which have now engaged consultants to review the experts’ findings — EIB pointed to EBRD’s mixed ownership, including Russia, China, and the U.S., and lack of experience in sub-Saharan Africa, while EBRD vaunted its private-sector-focused intervention model with well-staffed country offices.

Both banks hinted at those arguments again Friday. Rigterink said that his “global bank with a European heart” was able to “kick the tires” in its work with small and medium-sized enterprises thanks to its modality of working through local banks. Meanwhile, Ambroise Fayolle, vice president of EIB, said that thanks to its board — “and you know, our shareholders are the members of the European Union” — the bank had acted quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with an expected €6.7 billion ($8 billion) increase in lending outside the EU.

Both men acknowledged there is still a long way to go to improve their cooperation. “Why can we not rely on each other’s due diligence [and] each other’s environmental and social and governance practices?” Rigterink asked. “Historically, this has been very difficult, because if at EBRD we set these things, then we actually meant, you know, we would like to harmonize it, as long as this means that it is EBRD’s agreement. … And EIB has a little bit the same approach.”

He continued: “We big organizations, really we are quite arrogant because we think we know it better, and this has to change a little bit — not to our benefit but for the benefit of our clients. And slowly but surely, I actually see this already happening.”

Rigterink added that “now we also need to do this on an individual client level, because many of the clients we have actually are joint clients.”

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.