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Olli Rehn

European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs

The Europe 2020 Project Bond Initiative

EC/EIB Conference

Brussels, 11 April 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you as well to today's conference on the Europe 2020 Project Bond Initiative, for which the European Commission launched the stakeholders' consultation on 28 February (until 2 May).

President Maystadt has just given you an overview over our starting point and the key elements of this Initiative. I would like to place this initiative now into the wider policy work of the Commission, before coming to today's programme in more detail.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The recovery of European economy has taken hold, but it is uneven and still threatened by volatility in the financial markets. While we are doing the necessary to safeguard financial stability, at the same time we need to press ahead with measures that foster growth, investment and the creation of jobs. The Commission has given this clear message of urgency and priority in its Annual Growth Survey in January.

As part of our comprehensive economic strategy, we need to increase investment in projects that promote structural change and that can help putting our economies on a path of sustainable growth. Partly due to the fall in investment during the crisis, estimates on investment volumes considered necessary in Europe's transport, energy and communication networks until 2020 point to total amounts between € 1.5 and € 2 trillion.

However, currently our public budgets are struggling with the necessary fiscal consolidation. That's why we need to find smart ways and means to fund projects of major public interest. Financial instruments are a potential tool by helping to bring private and public funds together. Seizing such opportunities better is one of the aims of the next Multiannual Financial Framework for the years after 2013.

In the Annual Growth Survey, we have presented a set of priority measures to enhance sustainable growth. One of these measures is the Europe 2020 Project Bond Initiative, which President Barroso presented in his State of the Union Address last September.

This initiative has a double objective. First, to help finance certain of the European policy priority projects is crucial for our future growth. And second to revitalise the project bond market that has totally dried up since the crisis. Currently, institutional investors are redefining their investment and risk diversification strategies. A return to infrastructure financing is clearly on the menu worldwide. We see that project financing including project bond financing makes a comeback worldwide as international investors look for better return opportunities. Europe has an interest to be on their radar screen!

The key idea of the Europe 2020 Project Bonds is to use EU budget funds and the EIB's balance sheet and expertise more effectively and efficiently, so that certain type of projects can attract capital market financing, for instance, from insurance companies and pension funds. Suitable projects should be in line with our Europe 2020 objectives, for example, long-term infrastructure projects that are of major public interest and have revenue potential.

Many of my colleagues have contributed to this proposal, especially those responsible for infrastructure: Siim Kallas, Neelie Kroes and Günther Oettinger, and also Janusz Lewandowski, responsible for Budget, and Michel Barnier, for financial services. I have chaired the Commissioners' Group that prepared this initiative in recent months.

Today, I am particularly delighted to welcome MEP Sharon Bowles, Chairwoman of the ECON Committee, who after lunch will present views from European Parliament on the EU investment needs to support growth, and the distinguished speakers in the three panels.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me illustrate the idea with an imaginary example: The construction of a new toll road – likewise, we could take an energy network with transmission charges. Such an infrastructure project requires years of toll revenues to amortise the upfront investment. Especially at the beginning, there is uncertainty as to the expected cash flows, which makes the investment risky.

The concessionaires would look for ways to raise long-term funding for the particular project. The traditional way of debt-finance would be bank loans, but issuing bonds would expand the investor base. However, funding gaps can arise due to the risks involved and the long-term nature of the project.

EU budget funds and the EIB's balance sheet would then be used to bridge this funding gap and to reduce the credit risk of project bonds issued by these private project companies. Up to a pre-determined level, EU funds could be used to absorb part of the risk of the bonds. The EIB will then absorb further risk.

I want to underline that the Project Bonds will be private debt. We are not talking about Eurobonds, because this proposal does not involve Member States or the EU to issue bonds. Moreover, the proposal does not imply unlimited or contingent liabilities to the EU budget. As with all financial instruments that already operate under the EU Budget [e.g. the Loan Guarantee Instrument for TEN Transport (LGTT) and the Risk Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF) for R&D], the EU financial responsibility is capped.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are many questions of detail for which we need your help. I am delighted about the huge echo our Initiative is generating and to welcome the wide spectrum of stakeholders here, from capital market investors, banks and insurances to construction companies and law firms. I'd like to pose a few exemplary questions:

  • How can we build a European market of Project Bonds?

  • How should the project bonds be structured in order to attract demand from long-term investors?

  • What is the best way for EIB and EU to provide the credit enhancement?

  • Which types of projects and at what stage of development would be best suited?

  • Are there any regulatory barriers to issuing and investing in such bonds?

  • What would we need to do in order to start this Initiative as early as possible, i.e. during our current financial framework?

Last but not least I would like to thank the colleagues in DG ECFIN who are designing the initiative together with EIB. I would now like to pass the floor to Gerassimos Thomas, Director in DG ECFIN and Pierluigi Gilibert from the EIB, who will now go further into the technical details and guide you through the programme of today.

Thank you for your attention!

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