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Vestager cautions about defense, nuclear investments in EIB pitch

Vestager cautions about defense, nuclear investments in EIB pitch

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — The European Investment Bank should not become a “political fighting arena” for investments in nuclear energy or defense, said Margrethe Vestager, who’s trying to convince European Union finance ministers to pick her to head the powerful government-backed lender.

Vestager, currently on leave as EU digital and antitrust chief, is one of the top candidates to take over from President Werner Hoyer next year and lead the bank that finances EU policies, from fighting climate change to rebuilding Ukraine.

She stressed that a successful candidate needed broad support, including smaller countries, because “the bank is for everybody, big shareholders as well as small shareholders,” she told POLITICO on the sidelines of a finance ministers’ gathering in Santiago de Compostela.

France and Germany, who together with Italy, account for nearly half of the bank’s capital, haven’t said who they will back. France has been pushing for a candidate sympathetic to steering the EIB funds to nuclear projects and defense investments. It also wants someone willing for the cautious lender to take on more risks.

Germany has emphasized that “sound banking is essential” and that “the mission of the EIB mustn’t be overstretched,” Finance Minister Christian Lindner said ahead of the meeting.

Nuclear “is a good example of the fact that the bank should not be a political fighting arena,” Vestager said. The EIB “should not take sides” and should “engage in processes that maybe can find a new balance.”

On defense investments, she said that “a lot of those who buy bonds in the bank, they themselves have very strict financing guidelines. You should not jeopardize a lot of financing for little financing, if it’s in a controversial area.”

While Vestager urges political caution, she said she would “figure out how to take more risk” as EIB chief to ensure that European startups and scale-ups get the funding they need to grow.

Vestager has a tough rival for the job in Spain’s Finance Minister Nadia Calviño, who is considered a top contender. Other candidates include Daniele Franco, a former Italian finance minister, and EIB Vice Presidents Teresa Czerwińska and Thomas Östros, from Poland and Sweden respectively. 

Any candidate needs the backing of at least 18 EU countries holding at least 68 percent of its share capital.

While a decision was originally scheduled to happen in Santiago, “I don’t think we are already at that point,” said Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem, who is in charge of the process.

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