The European Investment Bank has announced the first projects it may fund through a controversial new investment scheme that universities fear will deprive them of research money.
The new scheme, which is funded in part by a diversion of funds from the European Commission’s flagship research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, has caused uproar among institutions that say they stand to lose money for fundamental research under the plans.
The European Fund for Strategic Investment, as it is known, has been proposed by the EC’s new president Jean-Claude Juncker as a way to stimulate the economy. However, it has yet to be approved by the European Parliament.
Earlier this week, two committees of the European Parliament said that they did not agree that funding for the EFSI should be taken from Horizon 2020, and they asked the Commission to find alternative sources.
Negotiations between the Parliament and the council of EU finance ministers on the future of the plan are set to begin today, but the EIB published a press release yesterday detailing the approval of four projects as part of the scheme.
The League of European Research Universities said that the negotiations “now seem to be a waste of time”, as it appears that the Commission and EIB will go ahead with their plans “without a legal basis” and “without the European Parliament’s consent”.
It added that the EIB’s announcement indicates that “no ‘EFSI’ time can be wasted” and gives a “clear signal to [the European Parliament to] tone down its opposition to the draft EFSI regulation”.
Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of LERU, said that it was a “black day” for the European Parliament and that the EIB and Commission had made a “mockery” of it. “Is this the new European Union?” he asked.
According to the press release, the EIB board has approved loans totalling €300 million (£215 million) for “projects expected to be financed under the EFSI”. These include investment in healthcare research in Spain, expansion of an airport in Croatia, 14 new healthcare centres in Ireland and backing for industrial innovation in Italy.
The first transactions from the European Investment Fund as part of EFSI have also been given the go-ahead and include loans to France, Portugal and the UK.
The EIB said that projects approved ahead of the formal establishment of EFSI will be submitted for approval to the Commission and relevant bodies once the scheme is in place. It added that it is committed to taking on the projects even if they do not fit the scheme.
An EIB spokesman said: “Speed is of the essence when addressing Europe’s lagging investment and competiveness gap with other parts of the world.
“At the European Council last December, EU member states urged the EIB to speed up efforts in order to get money working in the real economy. The EIB agreed to examine projects and, if needed, finance them whilst the final EFSI structure is being put in place.”