The issue was voted on by a joint meeting of two committees in the European Parliament.
The flagship European Fund for Strategic Investment – often referred to as ‘The Juncker Plan’ – aims to use €21 billion of EU and European Investment Bank money to act as guarantees that could unlock up to €315 billion in investment in projects, infrastructure and small businesses.
In the vote, which kick-starts an intense period of talks between the European Parliament and EU governments, MEPs said that the main priority was to ensure that the projects chosen for the scheme are commercially viable and “not chosen for political purposes.”
Both the European Parliament’s budgets and economics committees have joint responsibility for the proposal, which MEPs want to ensure does not adversely affect EU funding for research and innovation, and particularly research that is not ‘close to market’ with an obvious commercial return.
Speaking after the vote, Belgian MEP Sander Loones MEP, the European Conservatives and Reformists shadow lead member in the economics committee, said, “We do not want to see this fund politicised.
“The projects that it funds must be chosen independently based on their likelihood to deliver a return, not because they are a politician’s pet project. We must not forget that this is taxpayers’ money and taxpayers will expect a return. As we go into these negotiations we will oppose attempts to give politicians excessive control over how this fund is allocated.
“The ECR is concerned to ensure that existing EU research, innovation and infrastructure projects are not adversely affected by this fund. If we get this right then we could leverage more money into those areas where investors can see a return. However, we must also recognise that not all scientific research has an immediate commercial application, and we must not risk these projects.”
She added, “In many ways the most important part of this proposal is where we seek to eliminate barriers and red tape that are impeding investment. In the EU there is money available but too often excessive bureaucracy is preventing it from going to the right places. Unless we combine this project with efforts to eliminate investment barriers, and to restructure our wider economies, no amount of EU guarantees will be sufficient.”
Further reaction came from UK centre right MEP Richard Ashworth, who said, “This fund must be targeted where it can have the most positive effect, which means ensuring the projects with the greatest potential economic return are selected independently.
“Investors have become risk averse in the EU, and we are right to take action that will break down those barriers holding them back, and impeding economic growth and job creation.
“There is a lot of work to be done, and the ECR will play a constructive role throughout the negotiations with EU governments to put in place a fund that can unblock and unlock potential investment.”
By Martin Banks