Finnegan's Take

EU leaders seem to have just discovered the EIB but the truth is the bank has grown increasingly active since the crisis broke

In the sleepy Luxembourg headquarters of the European Investment Bank they are unsure how to handle their 15 minutes of fame.

Suddenly everyone from François Hollande and Angela Merkel to David Cameron and Enda Kenny are looking to the EIB to drive growth across the moribund bloc. While it must be nice to be noticed, the investment bank has in fact been hyperactive since the crisis broke in 2008.

In the immediate aftermath of the Lehman collapse, the EIB unveiled a €30 billion programme of loans and guarantees for small businesses which was distributed through commercial banks.

The EIB spread €13 billion around Europe for small companies last year. Add to that the €10 billion it invested in the ‘knowledge triangle’ of education, innovation and research and it becomes clear that tapping the EIB is not a new idea.

It began ramping up its activities long before Monsieur Hollande was elected. Last year it disbursed €60 billion to the “real economy” – its highest ever output – taking its outstanding loans to €395 billion.

And it’s not all SMEs and infrastructure projects. The European Investment Fund – a branch of the EIB charged with long-term investments in high-end technologies – is to create a €1 billion venture capital fund by the end of 2012. This plan was unveiled in 2010.

Yes, the bank’s AAA rating and its ability to leverage relatively meagre capital into a substantial investment fund has made it flavour of the month but it has been part of the EU’s crisis response from the start.

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