Vestager at the EIB is open to financing the nuclear and defense industries – EURACTIV Italia

The race for the presidency of the European Investment Bank (EIB) begins. Danish candidate and former European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said she was ready to reconsider EIB funding for defense and nuclear energy.

On Thursday and Friday (15-16 September), EU finance ministers will meet informally in Santiago, Spain, to try to reach consensus on the appointment of a new EIB president.

As the wait draws to a close, the candidates’ positions on nuclear energy and defense, as well as rebuilding Ukraine, are coming into focus.

These positions are, so to speak, causing “heated debate” in EU circles, Vestager told a group of journalists at the Danish Embassy in Berlin on Friday (September 8).

Nuclear energy has divided member states over whether it should be considered a “strategic” energy source for decarbonizing the EU economy.

In terms of defence, the EIB has always provided only “dual use” financing, which focuses on projects that meet both military and civilian needs. The transition to military use alone caused many to fear that the Bank would lose its AAA credit rating.

But Vestager, who is leading the race along with Spanish Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Nadia Calviño, said on Friday that she would be willing to take on more investment risks as head of the EIB and that she was open – out of “pragmatism” – to supporting nuclear energy and defense financing.

“Completely pragmatic”

“If you turn on the lights (in Denmark) on a gray and windless day, it is very likely that the electricity is being produced by Swedish nuclear power,” Vestager said.

Skeptical of nuclear power, she seemed to listen Friday: “If you decide to do things differently, I’m fine with that,” she said, adding, however, that such requests ultimately remain the prerogative of political institutions such as like Parliament, Commission and Council, not a bank.

“I don’t think the bank should be a place where assumptions can be made or where divisions within our political bodies can be overcome,” Vestager said, arguing that she rejects the EIB becoming “another political battleground.”

On Wednesday, Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, spoke in favor of EIB investment in nuclear power: “It is clear that nuclear power is on the rise (in Europe), it is clear that it needs to be financed and, of course, I think that the EIB should do it,” he told reporters.

The same goes for defense and purely military investment: “Things are changing” on that front, Vestager said, leaving all funding options on the table but warning that a “deeper conversation about what we want” is still needed in Europe. do.”

As the EU’s financial arm, the EIB plays a central role in the bloc’s most costly policy ambitions, such as the green transition and reconstruction of Ukraine. It has significant financial strength, with a balance sheet of around €544 billion.

Calm Paris

Paris and Vestager did not always get along: how to improve relations?

Last July, Vestager found himself at the center of a controversy over the appointment of American Fiona Scott Morton as chief economist at the Directorate-General for Competition, a move that was openly disputed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Scott Morton later retired.

Then in 2019, as competition commissioner, she vetoed a large-scale merger between France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens, described at the time as the birth of an “EU rail giant”, citing monopolistic concerns.

The veto was “an economic mistake and a political mistake,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said at the time, arguing it was a “gift to China.”

It remains to be seen whether Vestager’s new stance on nuclear power will be enough to resolve past conflicts: Le Maire made clear in July 2023 that French support would be directed towards a candidate open to providing more funding for the nuclear sector at the European level.

According to EURACTIV, the former commissioner is competing with four other candidates for the position, with Calviño reportedly being the French favourite.

The new president is expected to take office in early 2024.

(With input from Jonathan Packroff)

(Editing by Janos Allenbach-Ammann/Natalie Wetherald)

Read the original article here.

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