But how would it work, exactly? Here is an explanation from the European Commission's factsheet:
The role of the Fund is to mobilise extra private finance in specific sectors and areas. The Fund is estimated to reach a multiplier effect of 1:15 in real investment in the economy. This is the result of the Fund's initial risk bearing capacity and is an estimated average calculated as follows: For every initial one euro of protection by the Fund, three euro of financing could be provided to a certain project in the form of subordinated debt. Given that this creates a safety buffer in that particular project, private investors can be expected to invest in the senior tranches of that same project. EIB and European Commission experience indicates that 1 euro of subordinated debt catalyses 5 euro in total investment: €1 in subordinated debt and on top of that 4 euro in senior debt. This means that €1 of protection by the fund generates €15 of private investment in the real economy, that would not have happened otherwise. This 1:15 multiplier effect is a prudent average, based on historical experience from EU programmes and the EIB.I've drawn this up as a leveraged structure:
Note that the actual investment would be Mezzanine + Senior Debt, i.e. EIB subordinated lending plus private sector investment. The Equity portion is described in the factsheet as "protection". There is no actual money involved. It consists of public guarantees, not real money. In effect, the EU and EIB combined are providing insurance to private sector investors - accepting "first losses" of up to 21bn Euros. The EU's portion would guarantee the first 16bn Euros of longer-term infrastructure investment: the EIB would guarantee the first 5bn of capital investment in SMEs.
In fact, let us be completely clear. NONE of this money exists. Not a single Euro of it. This is a synthetic structure based entirely upon insurance, not actual funds.
The key to this is in the footnote of this diagram:
The EU's guarantee of 16bn Euros is only backed 50% by actual funds. If losses exceed 8bn Euros, the EU will have to find new money from somewhere. But worse than that, every euro of the 8bn actually backing this guarantee is already committed to other initiatives. 3.3bn Euros comes from Connecting Europe Facility (which is developing pan-European digital technology and broadband), 2.7bn Euros comes from Horizon 2020 (the EC's framework programme for research & innovation) and the remaining 2bn Euros directly from the existing EU budget. The EU is providing no new money to this initiative whatsoever, apart from the leveraged lending it expects the EIB to provide. All it is doing is placing both its existing investment programmes and the future budgets of member states at risk in the hopes of encouraging increased private sector investment in European projects.
The risk mitigation for the EU lies in the "second pillar" of Juncker's proposal. There would be a new facility in which EU bureaucrats would pick projects for presentation to the private sector as investment opportunities and provide "technical assistance" to investors to help them choose which projects to adopt. According to the EC's press release, projects would be recommended by Member States according to the following criteria:
- EU value-added projects in support of EU objectives
- Economic viability and value – prioritising projects with high socio-economic returns
- Projects that can start at latest within the next three years, i.e. a reasonable expectation for capital expenditure in the 2015-17 period.
And it gets worse. These are the sorts of project that the new proposal wishes to encourage:
The new Fund will support strategic investments in infrastructure, notably broadband and energy networks, transport in industrial centres, as well as education, R&D, renewable energy and energy efficiency.Looks good, yes? But as I noted above, the EU already has initiatives addressing broadband networks and research &innovation, which it is proposing to rob in order to provide guarantees for this new scheme. And that's not all.
It already has numerous energy initiatives - indeed one criticism that could reasonably be levelled at the EU is that it has lots of initiatives but no coherent energy policy. Unless the new funding would go to the existing initiatives, which seems unlikely, this is simply going to create confusion and duplication - as well as creating a golden opportunity for bureaucrats both in member states and in the EU itself to promote their pet projects. Transport in industrial centres looks like a good investment - but if it is so inadequate at the moment, why do private sector investors need public guarantees to encourage them to invest? After all, we assume, the principal beneficiaries of transport in industrial centres are industries. And as for education, it is notoriously difficult to demonstrate tangible benefits from educational programmes. If the programmes directly benefit industries, in that they provide workers with the skills those industries need, surely it would be reasonable to expect the private sector to accept the risk of investment? And if the programmes don't directly benefit industry, why would the private sector invest at all, even with public sector guarantees?
In short, there is a huge amount of muddled thinking going on in this proposal.
On the face of it, the EIB's involvement seems more sensible. Channelling investment funds to SMEs is clearly a good idea, given the paucity of bank lending in much of the Eurozone at the moment. But hang on a minute. Isn't this what the EIB already does? This is what its website says:
Smaller businesses face particular difficulties in accessing finance, particularly since the crisis. Our support has increased substantially since 2008, boosting our already significant long-term commitment. Countries particularly badly affected have received additional assistance. Our support has added impact by encouraging other private banks to on-lend and pass on advantages to businesses.And these are the forms the EIB's existing support takes:
LoansSo the 5bn Euros of capital from the EIB isn't quite what it seems, either. It's simply capital the EIB already uses as backing for SME lending.
All types of investment by smaller businesses are eligible for favourable EIB loans. Support is channelled through our partner network.
Innovative financing options
We use a range of financial techniques to increase the impact of funding from the EIB, the European Commission and others.
Research, development and innovation support
We help with access to debt financing for research, development and innovation projects.
Capital injection & development advice
We invest in venture capital or private equity funds which then help growth.
Microfinance in the EU
Micro-businesses in the EU receive financial and technical assistance from our microfinance programme.
Energy efficiency investment
Green Initiative: energy efficiency for SMEs in new Member States and pre-accession countries. Funded by EIB loans and European Commission grants.
In fact the new fund is to be a trust fund within the EIB. But the EIB is getting no new capital to support it, just a bunch of EU guarantees partially backed by money already committed to other things, and it is expected to divert part of its existing capital to support the new fund - which will of course reduce its current lending capability. On the basis of this faux capital, it is supposed to provide 63bn Euros of new subordinated debt. So this, too, is not quite what it seems: it is partly a diversion of lending from the EIB's existing SME support facilities.
Juncker's scheme is a highly-leveraged, complex funding structure reminiscent of a synthetic CDO. And just like the synthetic CDOs that contributed to the financial crisis, it is a clever piece of smoke and mirrors. It is intended to fool people into believing that investments can be guaranteed by the public sector without cost. This is dangerous nonsense. The first losses would go to the EU and the EIB, which ultimately would mean sovereigns coughing up more money, although not at this stage a huge amount. But the next losses would ALSO fall to the EIB, creating further claims on EU sovereigns (since they are the EIB's shareholders). The combined EU sovereigns stand to lose a total of £84bn Euros before the private sector takes any losses at all.
This strikes me as considerable public sector risk for very little return. Though to my mind the investment opportunity is nowhere near adequate anyway: the criteria make no sense from an investment point of view. I suspect the scheme may begin and end with leveraged lending from the EIB. This would be a viable approach - indeed a lot more EIB lending could be supported - if the EIB's subordinated loans could be packaged up and sold to the ECB. But no-one is going to agree to this, even to support pan-European projects. Monetary financing of all sovereigns is as bad as monetary financing of one, apparently. It's a weird take on "All for one, one for all".
Juncker's claim that this scheme will create at least 315bn Euros of new investment may or may not be true. But one thing is completely clear. Describing this scheme as funded with new investment capital from the EU is wrong. The EU's capital investment in this scheme is zero.
Austria's folly and Juncker's madness - Pieria
The Juncker fund will not revive the Eurozone - Wolfgang Munchau, FT