The mission of the European Investment Bank couldn’t be simpler: it’s to further the objectives of the European Union “by making long-term finance available for sound investment.”
But in view of the global financial crisis, Philippe Maystadt’s role as president of the bank is getting more complex with EU leaders asking the bank to invest more aggressively in the union’s countries facing economic crises.
Nevertheless, despite the financial problems of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, Mr. Maystadt maintains a serene composure.
During an interview with GlobalAtlanta Jan. 13 in Brussels, he indicated that he is confident the euro is safe and that the EU will hold together, primarily because Germany, the continent’s strongest economy, will do whatever is necessary to achieve these ends.
“This is why I am confident,” he said. “I am sure that when it is necessary Germany will take the steps which will be needed.”
He caused a slight stir in December when he criticized in the French press the manner in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented her concerns about the rescue effort.
Germany’s reluctance to assume the debt burdens of all the countries that have run up huge deficits has been extensively reported.
But Mr. Maystadt remains confident of Germany’s support for the euro that is the world’s second largest reserve currency as well as its support of the EU, which as a whole is the world’s largest economy.
He based his remarks on a career that stretches back to the creation of the euro and his critical role in the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, which established the conditions for EU countries to enter the Eurozone.
There is no questioning his experience. His career includes two stints as Belgium’s deputy prime minister (1986-88 and 1995-98) in addition to being Belgium’s minister of finance from 1988-98.
He was awarded in 1990, the title “Finance Minister of the Year” by Euromoney magazine. His term as president of the bank was renewed in 2006 for a period of six years.
In the interview, he recalled that the euro came into being because it would make it easier to conduct transactions throughout the member countries without the need to exchange money.
Importers wouldn’t have to worry about what the final cost of a contract would actually be and exporters would know the worth of their payments.
Aside from eliminating direct and indirect costs induced by exchange rate operations and interest rates, it would provide as a stronger currency better protection against external shocks, he said.
There also was the reasoning of Germany’s then-chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who thought that the euro would promote his desired goal of political integration with the rest of Europe.
“Has Germany changed its course today?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t think so. I’m very much reassured by the debate in Germany. Look at the Bundestag, Germany’s national parliament, both political parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, say quite explicitly they are totally committed to European unification.”
Euro skeptics say that the novelty currency was the concoction of “European elites” and forced upon people.
Mr. Maystadt, who as finance minister at the time was responsible for Belgian’s adoption of the euro, recalled attending town hall meetings three times a week to persuade his fellow citizens of its value.
Agreeing that the concept was a “top down” phenomenon, he said that Europeans would now be reluctant to give it up. ”That’s because they are used to it,” he added.
He also said that he is confident the efforts to put teeth in the Stability and Growth Pact, which provides fiscal monitoring of Eurozone members by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, will provide better oversight of the national budgets.
The new measures also are to provide more coordination among the fiscal policies of member countries and stricter enforcement of its rules.
Although the new measures are to be approved by the European Parliament early next year, he said that there was a good likelihood they would be adopted sooner.
Meanwhile, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, has said there is no urgent need to reinforce the safety net for the debt-strapped Eurozone members.
Following a recent meeting of the EU finance ministers in Brussels, the euro strengthened against the dollar. EU leaders are to meet again at a March 24-25 summit at which time they are to decide if they are to provide more loans to the troubled member states.
The EU’s six “priority” objectives in themselves are challenging enough including the cohesion of the union, supporting small- and medium-sized companies, advancing a green agenda, the spread of information technology and securing trans-European transportation and energy networks.
Aside from its EU centric activities, the bank is in charge of lending based on EU external cooperation and development policies. According to its 2009 annual report, the bank signed contracts worth more than 79 billion euros that year.
While Mr. Maystadt’s responsibilities keep him traveling around the world constantly, a growing preoccupation is the future of the euro and the financial health of the EU itself.
GlobalAtlanta publisher, Phil Bolton, recently visited Brussels to interview Didier Reynders, Belgium’s finance minister; Philippe Maystadt, president of the European Investment Bank and Stephen Vanackere, Belgian’s minister of foreign affairs. Articles based on the interviews will be posted on www.globalatlanta.com in coming days along with videos and recordings of the full interviews.
To see the article based on the interview with Mr. Reynders, go to http://www.globalatlanta.comarticle/24513/
For a detailed overview of the Growth and Stability Pact, go to http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/economic_and_monetary_affairs/stability_and_growth_pact/index_en.htm