Open Europe Blog

This is the name which has been given to the long touted €315bn investment fund which European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has put front and centre of his programme to deliver jobs and growth. The key points of the proposal (EC press release, Juncker speech, Katainen speech) are:

  • €315bn investment from 2015 – 2017. This is made up of a €16bn guarantee from the EU budget (a 50% guarantee from €8bn of the budget) and €5bn from the European Investment Bank (EIB). This money will be used as a guarantee to raise the targeted €315bn from private financing on the market.**
  • Of the total spend €240bn will go towards long term investments and €75bn to SMEs/mid-cap companies.
  • The EFSI will be under the umbrella of the EIB but will have different goals and do a different type of lending.
  • In conjunction with the EFSI the Commission will create a “project pipeline” along with technical assistance to help identify viable projects for investment at EU level.
  • The investment plan will also contain a road map to remove sector specific regulations that hamper investment, with a focus on the financial sector to tie in with the push towards a Capital Markets Union.

This is the opening salvo of a plan which has long been muted. Judging by the initial reactions, the plan leaves something to be desired. Some thoughts below:

  • As an opening salvo, the plan has already been watered down from what many had expected it to be – a real attempt at fiscal stimulus. Whether or not you agree with that prospect, it’s clear this plan does not constitute such an attempt. As it now enters the negotiation phase with approval from the member states and European parliament needed it could still be restricted and fudged further.
  • This process seems very similar to previous attempts to create such a fund in 2012 (discussed by us here) and the failed attempt to leverage the European Financial Stability Facility from 2011 (which fell down on the reluctance of the ECB to be involved and the level of public guarantees were not sufficient and too highly correlated with potential risks). History suggests pinning significant hopes on these sorts of plans is not usually a good approach.
  • It’s not clear that this buffer will be enough to encourage private investors to take on greater risk. There are numerous factors which are leading to a lack of private investment, risk (at these levels) is only part of it.
  • Furthermore, to the point above, reports now suggest that the €21bn will actually be used by the EIB to borrow €63bn in bonds and cash which will then be used as a first loss buffer for the private investors – however, this does not seem to be mentioned in the press release, factsheets or Q&A. Additionally, we’re not sure what rating these bonds issued solely as loss protection would get or who would want to invest in them (seems akin to the lower riskier mezzanine tranches of asset backed securities).
  • The promise to review the regulatory issues and create a central system of projects could actually prove to be more important than the funds themselves. That said, we have often heard the first point and the Commission has never followed through. The latter project has potential but the focus will be around “EU value added” and “EU objectives”. We’re not sure why the EU thinks it has a better idea of the returns and benefits on private investment than the market more broadly. Furthermore, these objectives already cloud what should be a simple idea – promote economic growth.
  • More generally, questions can be asked about how these funds will be targeted. The focus seems heavily on pan-European infrastructure. While there are sectors where this could be useful – energy and high-tech – such a rigid focus is not needed for a general fund. Many parts of Europe (notably Spain) loaded up on infrastructure in the boom years; they do not really need more of it. What is really needed across Europe is investment in human capital, (re)training and R&D.
  • All this once again highlights the huge amount of waste inside the EU budget, which could of course fill some of these roles. It also raises questions about whether the EIB should rethink its investment priorities.

Overall, the response from all sides has been very lukewarm. The plan seems very similar to previous iterations and, for better or worse, does not involve new money. Negotiations are likely to further impact the structure, while questions can be raised about the target and agenda included in the fund. The accompanying proposals for a project pipeline and improving regulation could be useful and tie in with plans for a single market in capital. That said, the EU’s track record on these fronts is not good and will likely take some time for any real impact to be seen.

**Correction: A previous version of this blog post said €294bn would be raised from private finance. However, the aim will actually be to use the €21bn as a guarantee on issuing €315bn worth of bonds on the market, meaning the entire €315bn will be private financing.

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