Q: A report commissioned by the European Council on the future of the European financial architecture for development floats the possibility of the EBRD evolving into the so-called European Climate and Sustainable Development Bank, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Do you believe this would work?
A: I like that suggestion, in the sense that it clearly says the EBRD is a proper development bank. We have the right business model; we crowd [fund] in the private sector; we have boots on the ground; we have a green and inclusion agenda; we do [assist] SMEs. That ticks all the boxes for development impact.
Q: The report also calls for a bigger majority of EU shareholders…
A: 'Europeanising' further the shareholding is a political decision; it is not for me to take. The evidence as I see it is that in the 28 years of EBRD existence, there has not been one occasion where EU and non-EU shareholders have not come together on all the big issues. This bank has been a good example of Europe and other parts of the world coming together in partnership. It has a special magic. I don’t think an exclusively European character would be right. The international character of the bank is even enshrined in its constitution.
Q: Does the EBRD have the capabilities to operate in sub-Saharan Africa?
A: We have expanded [our geographical reach] four times already [beyond our original region in central and eastern Europe], so the shareholders have clearly thought that our business model works in different places, not just former Communist countries. On that basis, I said to our shareholders that if we look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ 2030 commitment, sub-Saharan Africa is the region where I see the biggest gap and where we might be able to add value. We are now doing an evidence-based study to explore whether we can really add value or not, and the shareholders will decide on it in May 2020.
Q: What are the prospects for the EBRD’s Eastern Partnership initiative that brings together Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine?
A: It is a very mixed [bag] of countries – except for their desire to work in closer relationship with the EU. These countries are hungry to have more investment and political reforms, with EBRD support. There is a new generation of leaders coming through in these countries who are much more open to better relationships between them, and they are also trying to make difficult policy reforms to attract investors – which is a positive message.
Q: The EBRD decided to exit its investment into Borsa Istanbul following the appointment of Hakan Attila as CEO, who was held in the US on charges of helping Iran avoid sanctions. What lessons can be learned from that experience?
A: We took a decision to exit [this investment] because we felt the standards of good governance had not been maintained in the process of appointing the new CEO. We need to establish that the conditions are there for long-term engagements before getting into this sort of thing. It is very important for the EBRD to look at the lessons learned and compare them with [other such] investments that are doing very well, such as the Moscow Stock Exchange and the Astana International Financial Centre. My takeaway is that we haven’t factored in the possibility that political involvement in changing the approach might happen. We thought this might be a long-term, consistent approach [by the Turkish government] – and that turned out to be wrong.