The European Investment Bank consults the trade unions. A first….or merely a formality?

The European Investment bank grants loans and loan guarantees to support private and public initiatives to combat poverty, one of its official goals.
Does this constitute development cooperation? In a way, yes, because their loans and guarantees are awarded under more advantageous terms than those available on the “open market”. Only 10% of the projects supported are based in EU countries. The EIB however awards the most development loans in the world after the World Bank and regional European banks…It is therefore an important instrument for the EU’s foreign policy!

It is therefore not surprising that the trade union movement, represented on this occasion by the Belgian organisations, the FGTB and the CGSLB responded to an invitation by the EIB to give their opinion on the “social and environmental handbook”. The handbook aims to provide the Bank (and the developers that apply to it) with a method to evaluate the risks regarding the respect of social and environmental standards.

The trade union movement obviously lobbied to ensure that the respect for all fundamental social standards without exception, be an absolute prerequisite to obtaining EIB support. We very much regretted the fact that, in its handbook, the Bank, has up until now, considered the kidnapping, murder or torture of a trade unionist for example, as less worthy of attention than the violation of other standards.
The trade unions also pointed out that development presumes that the governments have the capacity to finance services and social protection. It would be logical that in order to benefit from EIB support, a developer and/or a project should generate tax revenues and not operate in a tax haven as seems to be the case today.

Finally, the trade unions encouraged the setting up of mechanisms which are open to civil society, including the social partners specifically, before a project is approved and during its lifecycle. In this way, it could make its voice heard and alert the bank directly if necessary. The developer cannot be the sole person responsible for evaluating his own project and for the “complaint” mechanisms.

To our knowledge, this was the first time that the EIB consulted with trade unions on this issue. We will soon know if this was merely a formality!

Article written by Thierry Aerts, FGTB European and International Affairs Department.