The fifth meeting of an informal V4 MEPs caucus jointly organized by the Central European Policy Institute (CEPI) and demosEUROPA – Centre for European Strategy, took place on Wednesday 2 December in Brussels. Participants of the dinner included Danuta Hübner(Poland), Michał Boni (Poland), György Schöpflin (Hungary), Ivan Štefanec (Slovakia), Martina Dlabajová(Czech Republic), Dita Charanzová (Czech Republic), and Tomáš Zdechovský (Czech Republic). Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, Representative to the EU institutions of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and head of its Brussels office, took part as a guest speaker.
The December dinner discussion of the V4 MEPs focused on the flagship initiative of the Juncker Commission, the Investment Plan for Europe. Following the financial crisis, the EU has suffered from a serious investment gap resulting in a slower economic growth and growing unemployment. The Juncker Investment Plan thus aims at stimulating investment across the EU.
Its main channel, the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) set up within the EIB, is to mobilize private investment of at least 315 billion EUR over the next three years for funding viable projects. The EU provides initial funding of 21 billion EUR (16 billion EUR from the European Commission, and 5 billion EUR from the EIB). The EFSI is designed to increase the EIB’s risk bearing capacity and thus allow offering new more risky products. Projects seeking its funding must meet standard EIB criteria of bankability, but also the additionality requirement – the projects would not have been otherwise funded by the EIB. Target areas include infrastructure, innovation, education, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and SMEs.
At the moment, the EFSI is still in its early implementation phase. However, first projects have already been approved by the EIB and await the final decision in January 2016.
The key question for the V4 region is its capacity to launch competitive and presentable projects. Visegrad countries are comparatively less prepared to tackle challenges ahead. Good proposals now must also be ‘presentable’ as business projects. The relative lack of experience in public administration in the Visegrad countries with this type of format, over-bureaucratisation, and slow learning process may seriously hamper the V4’s capacity to compete for funds under the EFSI scheme.
Will the V4 be at the losing side of the Juncker Investment Plan? The stakes are high as the risks of two-speed Europe developing on benefits from the Juncker plan are real. In the future, the EFSI initiative might be promoted in Brussels as a better alternative to the cohesion policy, whose main benefactors is Central and Eastern Europe.
Much depends on the attention paid to it by the Visegrad capitals and their ability to get better organized. In a similar manner, the parliamentary oversight over the EFSI/EIB activities should become an important part of the European Parliament’s business. So far, however, comments from different EP committees have remained fragmented, and the main political groups have not been involved in the substantial debate. A number of other recommendations were also discussed.
Notes from this very dynamic informal discussion will be shared with other members of the informal V4 MEPs caucus, as well as with the Permanent Representatives of the V4 countries to the EU.