Kris Peeters Vice-President of the European Investment Bank

Kris Peeters Vice-President of the European Investment Bank

In January this year, Kris Peeters was appointed vice-president of the European Investment Bank. According to him: “there is no better time to start the job.” The vice-president shares his thoughts on his recent appointment and the coming three years of his tenure.

 

CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR RECENT APPOINTMENT! A NEW CHALLENGE AND A FAREWELL TO POLITICS: DO YOU SEE THIS ROLE AS THE LOGICAL NEXT STEP OF YOUR CAREER OR AN UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITY?

It is a bit of both. On the one hand, my appointment is the logical next step of my career, since I have served extensively in politics and represented Belgian entrepreneurs as the president of UNIZO before that. On the other hand, this is, of course, also an opportunity. The role of vice-president has rotated between Belgium and the Netherlands for some time now, and it was Belgium’s turn to fill the empty chair. It certainly took some time to find the right candidate. But now that I have been appointed vice-president, I am sure that there is no better time to start the job. I am very interested in and committed to the European dynamic and the European Investment Bank plays an important role in the issues presented by the Green Deal, as well as the recovery plan for Europe.

 

YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES ON THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE INCLUDE INVESTMENT IN MOBILITY, SECURITY AND DEFENCE. TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED WITH THESE SUBJECTS IN THE PAST?

At the European Parliament, I chaired the delegation for relations with NATO and participated in the subcommittee for Security and Defence (SEDE). Last year, I also told Belgium’s KNACK Magazine that if the European Union wants to be a geopolitical player, it should establish a European security council which must ensure that a response  to conflicts taking place at our external borders is provided with the necessary vigour and rapidity.

 

WHAT CHALLENGES DOES EUROPE FACE IN TERMS OF SECURITY AND DEFENCE AND HOW DOES THE EUROPEAN INVESTMENT BANK HELP ADDRESS THEM?

Given that the European Investment Bank, by definition, does not invest in military systems, ammunition, weapons, etc., this is a rather open topic. We are currently rolling out the Climate Bank Roadmap which offers clear policies on this. There is, however, the case of “dual-use,” which refers to technology that can be used for both peaceful as well as military aims. Generally speaking, dual-use can refer to any technology which can satisfy more than one goal at any given time. Therefore, expensive technologies that would otherwise only benefit civilian commercial interests can also be used to serve military purposes and vice versa. Examples of these technologies include artificial intelligence, biosecurity and cyber-security. We are also continually seeking out areas where the Bank could be more active as an investor in R&D and dual-use projects. In 2018, the European Investment Bank and the European Defence Agency signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). At the time, it was decided that €6 billion would be made available for this purpose. Currently, €3.5 billion has been invested. This obviously concerns defence and security technology, but also involves safety, as well as civil infrastructure.

 

IN ADDITION TO YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES ON THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE, WILL YOU STILL FIND THE OPPORTUNITY IN YOUR ROLE TO STAND UP FOR MATTERS THAT AFFECT OR APPEAL TO YOU PERSONALLY AND THAT YOU CONSIDER IMPORTANT?

I have been working with the Bank for two months now and so far, I have been focusing on the brief the Bank has assigned to me. I am very interested in European politics, in the broadest sense of the word, and I am also concerned with a number of issues and debates and the way Europe deals with them. You already know that I have a philosophical disposition and I hope that once everything has settled down in a few months, I will have more space and opportunity to express my personal views on a number of questions. However, first I have to make sure that the brief assigned to me by the Bank is completely under control.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE REPRESENTATIVE FOR BENELUX COUNTRIES ON THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE? DO WE OVERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS POSITION?

I think it is important that the seat has been filled. A football team needs eleven players to function. It is important that the Bank, which consists of nine members, one of whom is the president, is fully operational considering the great challenges posed by its commitments. Benelux must be represented by a vice-president. Having said that, the aforementioned football team should, when necessary, be able to function with ten players and still achieve satisfactory results. The Bank should be able to do the same, which means deploying enough active employees in our offices in Amsterdam or Brussels. Coming back to your question: Benelux is a shareholder consisting of relatively small countries that have a relatively large holding in the Bank and it therefore rightly deserves to have a place on the management committee.

 

THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE HANDLES THE DAY-TO-DAY MANAGEMENT OF THE BANK, WHILE THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS MAKES THE ACTUAL INVESTMENT DECISIONS. DOES THE LATTER DILUTE THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE’S POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON BUSINESS IN BENELUX?

Each country is well represented on the board of directors. Mickie Schoch represents the Netherlands, Marc Descheemaecker represents Belgium and Arsène Jacoby represents Luxembourg. They make decisions concerning extensive subjects, as is the case with other banks. Nothing new, so far. The management committee, including myself, meets up to three times a week. These are long meetings since we employ nearly 4 000 people and deal with large sums of money being made available to good causes. I can assure you that we are very active there. Even when the seat was vacant, Benelux was still looked after. Last year, €1.33 billion was made available for Belgium alone, and €3.18 billion for the Netherlands. Of course, it also depends on the amount of projects that are approved within a particular year. Therefore, you always need to put matters into perspective. In any case, Benelux is a good customer of the Bank and the Bank is therefore very active there. I think we are currently facing significant challenges in which I hope Benelux will be able to take the lead. The challenges I am thinking of include the storage of CO2. The ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam have been very actively involved with this subject. I am also thinking of hydrogen power, for which many initiatives are being kicked off in the Netherlands with investments announced in the billions of euros. I therefore hope that when it comes to the Green Deal and the recovery from the pandemic, Benelux will set an example in Europe, precisely because it can make a difference in matters such as these.

 

THE EUROPEAN INVESTMENT BANK WILL TAKE ON THE ROLE OF CLIMATE BANK IN THE COMING YEARS. HOW BROAD IS THAT INTERPRETATION IN YOUR VIEW? YOU ARRIVED AT THE BANK AT THE RIGHT TIME: THE GREEN DEAL, THE EUROPEAN BAUHAUS INITIATIVE AND THE EUROPEAN RECOVERY PLAN, INCLUDING THE APPROACH FOR DEALING WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF COVID-19. HOW DOES THE BANK GO ABOUT TACKLING MATTERS SUCH AS THESE WHILE THINKING ABOUT THE DESIGN OF A NEW SOCIETY? AFTER ALL, WE ALL AGREE THINGS NEED TO CHANGE.

Things certainly do need to change. We are currently finding ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis as well as the climate crisis. Time is running out and now is when we have to avert the consequences. We have to provide new impetus in looking at the problems and solutions surrounding the issue of global warming. Global warming was the cause of a one degree temperature increase in the previous century. A rise of three to four degrees would be catastrophic and must be avoided. I think it is clear to everyone that given the challenges we are currently facing, a bank such as the European Investment Bank, which enables public investment and is committed to investing heavily in societal challenges, is of the utmost importance.

 

YOU HAVE COME HERE STRAIGHT FROM THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT. GIVEN THE GREAT RESPONSIBILITY THAT THE BANK IS TAKING ON WITH ITS CLIMATE ROADMAP, THIS MUST BE PROVING USEFUL, ESPECIALLY SINCE TRANSPORT, ONE OF THE LARGEST CONTRIBUTORS TO CO2 EMISSIONS, WILL BE ONE OF YOUR MAIN FOCUSES.

That’s right. At the European Parliament, I voted for a 55% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030. That’s an ambitious goal. Now I have the opportunity at the Bank to make that goal a realistic proposition. It is very important for me to accomplish this, especially since the transport sector makes up such a large share of CO2-emissions. When we look at shipping, for example, Benelux can lead the way in replacing ships that are still using heavy fuel oil. However, there is also a lot to be done in inland shipping. Therefore, we must go further than changing the lending policy for transport and mobility – we also need to get involved in projects focusing on these areas. I already mentioned a few of these projects earlier, such as CO2 storage and hydrogen power so that the entire European vehicle fleet can go electric. Green electricity generation is also essential. This is going to be yet another challenge.

 

DIPLOMATIC WORLD BUILDS BRIDGES BETWEEN DIPLOMACY AND ENTREPRENEURS. AS A FORMER POLITICIAN AND PRESIDENT OF UNIZO, YOU SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF BOTH. YOU ONCE MENTIONED THE CONSTRUCTION OF AN EXTRA BRIDGE BETWEEN BORNEM IN THE BELGIAN PROVINCE OF ANTWERP AND TEMSE IN EAST FLANDERS AS ONE OF THE HAPPIEST MOMENTS IN YOUR POLITICAL CAREER. THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING BRIDGES IS THEREFORE NOT ENTIRELY UNKNOWN TO YOU. WHICH BRIDGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE BUILT DURING YOUR TERM OF OFFICE?

Climate diplomacy is something that is becoming increasingly important. It is about how we live together and impacts future generations and entrepreneurship as a whole. If we aim to take crucial steps towards climate improvement in Europe, then we must also bring other parts of the world on board. I believe that diplomacy will become increasingly important in the future and see a growing role for climate diplomacy. We will have to deploy our finest diplomats and entrepreneurs and send our best politicians if we are to live up to our climate targets. This is important for young people too because I know that they harbour considerable reserves of potential and talent. In the context of building bridges, I therefore hope that with climate diplomacy, we will be able to achieve multiple goals, ensuring that our aims are fought for both inside as well as outside Europe.

 

FINALLY, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS?

Over the next three years, the EIB will be able to count on a highly committed vice-president who will give his all. With the experience he has gained in both business and politics, he will do everything in his power to ensure that every opportunity is given to projects in Benelux that contribute to the Green Deal, the recovery and social improvement. Finally, I will also make every effort to find projects that can be carried out with the aid of the business community.

 

By Mark Raemaekers

 

Photo : Caroline Martin ©

Photo : Caroline Martin ©