EU reaches agreement on rules for major investment fund to help kick-start economies

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Tuesday took a major step toward a 315 billion euros ($356 billion) investment plan to encourage the private sector to launch higher risk projects like broadband and energy networks.

EU finance ministers reached agreement on the so-called European Fund for Strategic Investment, which is touted as Europe’s big strategy to boost growth after half a dozen years of economic woes.

With the 28 EU nations in line, negotiations can now start with the European Parliament for a final agreement.

“We will be ready by the end of June, or July” to launch the fund, the EU’s investment commissioner, Jyrki Katainen, said after finance ministers sealed the agreement.

With seed money of 21 billion euros, the fund is forecast to generate some 315 billion euros in investment loans between 2015 and 2017 by easing financing risks for the private sector.

The European Investment Bank has already begun vetting a list of some 2,000 potential projects, worth more than 1.3 trillion euros, which could be developed, including in research, education and transport.

As it was made public, Italy announced it would contribute eight billion euros towards projects, after Germany and France pledged to contribute the same amount. Spain has said it would put in 1.5 billion euros.

But while the eurozone’s four major economic powers are ready to invest in projects, no country has been willing to put seed money directly into the fund.

EU economy and finance chief Pierre Moscovici called for quick movement on the plan, noting that the level of investment in Europe stands 15-20 per cent lower than what it was before 2008.

“If we are not able to change that then in a few years Europe, which is the world’s top economy along with the United States, will be a bit player on the international stage,” he warned.