Previously we examined the role of the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) and its role as the major UK government debt generator. Cornelia Trogmann here turns the spotlight on another lender funded by the UK government. The European Investment Bank (EIB)
The European Investment Bank was established in 1958 as the long-term lending institution of the European Union. It is mandated to provide financing in support of all policy objectives of the EU (CEE Bankwatch Network: The European Investment Bank. Promoting Sustainable Development “Where Appropriate”. November 2007). With an annual lending portfolio of more than €45 billion, the EIB is probably the largest public international financial institution. But it also is the least transparent European institution. It operates worldwide in a wide range of projects – in 2006 alone, the EIB distributed €5.9 billion to projects outside the EU – yet it does so without clear environmental, social or development policies in place. (Bank Watch 2008)
But while the World Bank and the IFC operate with a single overarching mission in all their countries of operation, the EIB operates with distinct regional mandates outside the EU, as defined by the European Council. Acting outside of the EU, the bank is charged with implementing European Commission policy in the sphere of development cooperation. As a European Institution it has the duty to promote human rights and social principles outside the EU. But it still lacks specific operational policies on key social development and safeguard issues such as potential risks and impacts, public participation and information, health and safety, independent experts, meaningful prior consultation with affected communities, core labour standards, gender equality, and resettlement (Tom Griffiths 2006) Instead, the main focus seems to lie on the European companies’ profit. Certainly, their controversial projects display a strong lack of expertise and an even stronger interest in lucrative investments. (The Guardian 2008)
The EIB is rather secretive about its projects. Minutes of its meetings are never published, so it is widely suspected that there is a culture of swapping favours between the countries. The EIB doesn’t even publish staff contact information and the evaluation of individual projects is considered as internal information and is not made public in principle. (Bank Watch 2007).
Counter Balance and Bankwatch have recently had a closer look at some of the projects the EIB has helped to fund, and the findings are worrying. One the EIBs more controversial recent involvements has been with the Gilgel Gibe hydro power project in Ethiopia, to which it contributed millions of euros (the remainder of the project was financed by the World Bank, the Austrian Development Cooperation and the Ethiopian Government). This project dates all the way back to 1985, but is still being implemented in 2008. The EIB has so far leant €41m for the construction of Gilgel Gibe I and €50m for Gilgel Gibe II. The bank has been formally approached by EEPCo for a new loan for Gilgel Gibe III, an offer that the World Bank has flatly refused to accept because of criminal proceedings that are hanging over the head of Salini Costruttori, the Italian construction company responsible for the building of the Gilgel Gibe II dam. Nevertheless, the EIB is still considering a multi-million euro loan for the construction of this third dam.
The EIB’s participation in the operations raises various concerns about the coherence and the compliance with international standards and best practices (the Gilgel Gibe III Dam does not comply with any of the seven strategic priorities of the World Commission on Dams), as well as with EU policies and with the bank’s own operational policies. For example, the EIB has apparently failed to consider that the energy generated by Gilgel Gibe III is fully export oriented. This will certainly not help the cause of Ethiopia, which already has one of the world’s lowest levels of access to modern energy services, and relies primarily on traditional biomass, which is responsible for massive deforestation that in turn causes severe erosion and loss of topsoil in many of Ethiopia’s river basins. While EEPCo (fully state-owned and currently the sole electric utility in the country) claims to have increased energy access from 17 percent to 22 percent between 2005 and 2007, figures reflecting direct access to electricity remain at only 12 percent of the population, and there is a great disparity between the access rates of urban and rural residents (Counter Balance 2008)
Also, the project cannot be considered as one of poverty reduction. Rather than bringing social development and an alleviation of poverty, the creation of the reservoir has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 10000 civilians. Of these, many were resettled on swampland, which was of poor agricultural quality and which had no electricity supply, despite being crossed by the high voltage transmission line. (CEE Bankwatch Network and International Rivers 2007).
Neither did the EIB consider Ethiopia’s hydrological vulnerability to drought or climate change. The dam’s impact on animal disease, child and health nutrition, environmental health and ecology, epidemiology and infectious disease and soil fertility is still being analysed. (Counter Balance 2008)
The European Investment Bank, as well as the other main donors supporting the Ethiopian energy sector, justifies its investments by the projects’ potential for exporting to neighbouring countries. But from the evidence given above, the difficulties that this particular project has brought to the Ethiopian population are very clear to see. And this example is far from unique, in fact, a recent report of Counter Balance, which focussed specifically upon the Gilgel Gibe I, II and III large hydro projects, showed how goals to eradicate poverty and support local communities are most often compromised when major corporations and political elites are intent on maximising profits ( Counter Balance 2008)
Other examples of the EIB’s involvement in controversial projects include:
Water privatisation in Indonesia. Since 1993, the EIB has granted almost €300 million in loans to projects in Indonesia, mainly in the gas and water sector. But rather than helping the poor to safe or more accessible water, these investments helped the private sector companies to increase profits at the expense of millions of consumers. (CEE Bankwatch Network 2006)
Bolivia-Brazil gas pipeline. Constructed in the late 1990s, this pipeline crosses several important ecosystems. The EIB granted a €55m loan for this project to a consortium including Enron and Shell. The EIB ignored the fact that gas is not a renewable energy, proof to many of the lack of respect the EIB shows towards EU environmental law in its projects. (CEE Bankwatch 2006)
Chad-Cameroon oil and pipeline project. In 2001, the EIB granted loans to the Chadian and Cameroonian governments and to Chevron and Exxon. Amnesty International found that the Chadian security forces carried out large-scale massacres of unarmed civilians in the oil-producing region in the late 1990s at the time of intense project preparations. The scandal was deepened further by the fact that Chad used part of the loan to purchase weapons. Nevertheless, the bank ignored the severe human rights abuse and corruption in these two countries. Negative effects include the loss of biodiversity along the pipeline route, and the poor waste management of the oil and drilling fluids threaten groundwater supplies. (CEE Bankwatch 2006)
Mining in Zambia. The following year, the EIB granted a loan of €14m for the construction of a large mine without asking for an Environmental Impact Assessment prior to its approval of the project. This mine is a major source of air and water pollution in the local area. (CEE Bankwatch 2006).
So what can be done to prevent the EIBs continued involvement in such controversial projects in future? Opposition parties have provided many answers, though all effectively seem to come to the same conclusion. Counter Balance, for example, has suggested that the EIB has to adopt clear and binding standards that are coherent with EU policies, and must also become more accountable for the catastrophes that are brought by their actions. (Counter Balance: European Civil Society Concerns About Inadequate Policies and Practices of the European Investment Bank. Memo for European Parliamentarians. February 2008). As Tom Griffiths has suggested, the EIB as a European Institution has a duty to promote human rights and social principles outside the EU as enshrined in European external policies and in European development co-operation treaties. (Griffiths, Tom: 2006) Similarly, Bankwatch has suggested that the European Commission and Parliament have to exercise more control over EIB operations in poorer countries and ensure compliance with long-term sustainable development objectives. (CEE Bankwatch 2006).