There is a new tenant in Luxembourg. It has been about four weeks since the former Minister of Economy, Nadia Calviño, has installed herself at the head of the table at the European Investment Bank. Between tall towers and covered skies, the Spaniard outlines what will be the guidelines for her mandate during the next six years. And at a time when the debate is reopened on whether the EU’s investment arm should boost investment in defense and nuclear energy, Calviño appeals for a joint decision with the bloc’s Ministers of Economy and Finance in an attempt not to lift commotion in France. At the same time she sends a message to Germany: will maintain the solvency of the institution.
Calviño’s is a balancing act. It tries to maintain the axis between the message of solvency that Berlin requires and the openness to investments in nuclear energy that French interests demand. He restrained, punctuated, corrected – and self-corrected – adjectives and verbal forms to formulate a speech adjusted to the expectations of a new presidency of the EIB. In a small meeting with Spanish media, among which was elEconomista.es, outline the “strong position of the institution.”
“We have a capital ratio of 34%, that is, a very strong financial position. And a triple A, also very solid,” said the new president of the EU investment arm. Such a message of stability is projected into the future: “the “Protecting triple A is an absolute priority for us”, says the Spanish woman. And in an exercise of reassuring the German markets, she assures that “only with these strong solvency conditions will we be able to have attractive financial conditions and lend to Member States and companies under good conditions.”
The institution has pivoted in recent years to become the Climate Bank, with more than 50% of the portfolio focused on this segment according to the 2023 results. “This gives us a very solid basis to be able to contribute to the European political priorities of the next years”. “Very efficient” risk control mechanisms and financial management mechanisms support a “very strong position from an investment point of view.”
Far, yes, from promises that point to any type of risk. The balance of the EIB will also seek a point at which it is reconciled “taking risk and protecting our solvency position”. There is room, according to the Spaniard, “to do more” but “we always have to do it in the context of preserving our solvency and strong position.” Also, because “it is the advantage we have to finance the European economy and its countercyclical nature.”
The conversation with the EU Ministers of Economy and Finance that will take place this month in the Belgian town of Ghent will guide the institution during the six-year mandate that Calviño has ahead of him. Taboos will be broken as a defense and it will have to face France’s appetite for opening its hand with investments in nuclear energy in an environment in which the institution must maintain neutrality to avoid favor one technology over another in the market.
“I am sure that the nuclear energy issue will be one of the issues that will have to be addressed with the ministers and I will listen carefully to what they propose,” Calviño simply explained. Briefly, he has exemplified that in nuclear the investment arm of the EU has also already been financing projects, although they have been related to the fuel cycle or with security
The other question is on the table, the defense, It has its intricacies. The statuses of the community investment vehicle set red lines when investing in sectors such as weapons or ammunition. The new president of the EIB breaks with preconceived ideas and explains that the bank “has been financing security and defense projects for 8 years.”
If some community voices cry out for the need to break certain barriers, adopt a new strategic perspective and open the door to EIB financing in this segment, Calviño’s response is caution. Yes, in January, the European Investment Fund launched the European Strategic Security Initiative, but this instrument is dedicated to taking capital from small companies. Yes, it supports projects related to security and defense, but they are focused on areas of R&D, dual technologies, protection of critical infrastructures or cybersecurity. Aspects that would not have military purposes.
Pulse to the US in investments
One of the results evidenced by the European Investment Bank report, presented this week, is that the EU continues to lag behind the United States in investment. Asked about this issue, Calviño has expressed confidence that the investment arm of the EU will play a “fundamental role in closing the investment gap” regarding Washington.
The Spanish company will try to mobilize the necessary capital for “the double green and digital transition, among other priorities.” A segment in which Spanish companies have a certain advantage, as evidenced by the institution’s report published this week. The percentage of Spanish companies investing in climate change is 64%, compared to the 56% average for the European Union. A dynamic that is also replicated in the digitalization segment. At the same time, the proportion of Spanish companies that claim to face problems or restrictions derived from lack of financing is at historic lows.