The EBRD’s New Scaffolding Scrapes
The approaching 30th anniversary of the post-communist European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, with a core democracy and private sector building purpose and geographic spread to the Middle East and Central Asia, has set off a wholesale rethink after a high-level task force recently weighed in on the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank’s future. That report urged reorientation on climate and sustainability lending in poor countries, with the EBRD as a possible shareholder in a spinoff entity. It came as the EIB’s main infrastructure project portfolio will likely come under pressure with post-Brexit budget cuts, and member countries are able to separately attract private debt and equity finance. Europeans together still hold a majority stake in the London-headquartered Bank, originally championed by a French official on the understanding it would be built elsewhere. North African nations joined after the Arab Spring and stillborn attempts to create a stand-alone Middle East body, and the target central and east Europe block now accounts for only one-third of investment, with the Southeast and MENA roughly split at 20%. Total allocation to date is around $150 billion, with Turkey replacing Russia as the leading single focus after post-Crimea sanctions suspended operations in the latter. Infrastructure and energy currently absorb half of commitments, in contrast with the early manufacturing and services footprint. 80% is loans, 15% equity, and 10% guarantees and other “de-risking’ instruments. Banking and capital markets work came to over $50 billion for 2000 projects through 2018, and an active technical assistance program recruits foreign advisers and consultants. Only a half dozen of the founding area members did not rise in income classification, and the Czech Republic “graduated” from eligibility altogether a decade ago. The US remains a large shareholder with a 10% holding, and it has emphasized geopolitical rivalry in recent years against Russian and Chinese economic and credit expansion in the area. Moscow has natural gas pipelines and drew neighbors into the Eurasian Economic Union aiming for full integration with Belarus, while Beijing’s Belt and related initiatives sprinkle $300 billion across the wider Silk Road.
A December CSIS think tank report points out that graduation policy is undefined and that “fault lines” have opened as borrowers may be tempted to turn to cheaper sources with “malign interests.” It argues that assigning a green mandate within the context of a new organization would confuse its mission and undermine a versatile commercial culture, and that expanding into Africa and other low-income regions will stretch capabilities and create additional rivalries. However on the issue of migration the EIB and EBRD could better collaborate on fresh solutions, building on the latter’s Syrian refugee support in Jordan and Turkey which also acts as a “force multiplier” for US humanitarian assistance. Rediscovery more than reinvention should be the future strategy especially with frontier capital market deepening lacking basic knowledge transfer. More countries should graduate under a clear process, and equity and guarantee volume can better balance loans. These changes should be embraced under the next President as longtime leader Chakrabarti exits the scene, and the US should not consider reducing or selling off its estimated $150 million share, which can backfire in both deal and diplomatic terms, CSIS warns.