The European Investment Bank (EIB) has earmarked one third of its financing for the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, EUR 25.5 billion of which has mainly been used to keep small and medium-sized enterprises afloat, but also to invest in hospitals, vaccines or treatments.
In total, the European Union (EU) public bank granted ?76.8 billion in funding last year, 40% of which went to climate action projects, up from 34% the previous year, even though the pandemic has forced an additional effort in other areas.
"It has been a difficult but crucial year", said EIB President Werner Hoyer on Wednesday at the presentation of the group's annual results, adding that in 2020 "it has proved to be a vital instrument for the EU's strategic autonomy", which can act "quickly" and on "all fronts".
Of the 25.5 billion euros that were invested in the fight against the pandemic, most went to support SMEs and their workers, especially in European countries that could not afford huge public bailouts, but loans or guarantees were also given for hospital infrastructure or for the development of vaccines and treatments.
This is the case of a ?100 million loan to the German company BioNTech, which developed with Pfizer the first vaccine authorised in the EU and had already received funding from the EIB for other research, or the ?400 million credit to the international COVAX initiative aimed at enabling low- and middle-income countries to access the vaccine.
The EIB has financed another 25 "promising" projects in vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for covid-19, explained Hoyer.
"As a public bank, we are entering to invest where the private market would not because of the high risks and long term nature of these projects", he said.
As a result of this aid for the pandemic, the EIB's investments in SMEs increased by 5 billion, to 30.6 billion euros in 2020, which helped 425,000 companies, according to the bank's estimates.
In addition to this funding, EUR 5.4 billion was granted through the new guarantee fund that the EU decided to launch last April as part of the emergency package for the pandemic.
The President of the EIB announced that in "the next six months" they hope to mobilise "nearly EUR 50 billion" under this instrument, which "is growing very rapidly and efficiently".
This fund - which is off the EIB's balance sheet - operates with EUR 25 billion in guarantees provided by EU countries, enabling the bank to provide financing to SMEs or mid-cap companies, either directly or through intermediaries such as investment funds or national promotion banks.
The EIB's aim is to attract additional private financing to mobilise a total of ?200 billion to help SMEs that would otherwise be viable.
"So far we have given oxygen to the economy, but from now on we will have to complement this emergency relief with funding for a long and difficult recovery," warned Hoyer.
For the EIB President, the group has also shown that "there is no choice between financing the recovery and investing in climate and innovation".
Apart from the EUR 36.6 billion in SMEs, EUR 16.8 billion was invested in environmental projects, EUR 15 billion in infrastructure and EUR 14.4 billion in innovation, the Bank's four priority areas.
In total, projects with a climate or environmental impact accounted for 40% of investment (some 30.7 billion), bringing the EIB closer to its goal of allocating 50% of its financing to the climate and investing a total of ?1 trillion by 2030.
The group will be reducing its investments in airports or roads and increasing them in energy efficiency or green innovation, said Hoyer, who acknowledged that although gas is "finished", investments in concrete projects using this fuel will be maintained as some countries are totally dependent on it for their energy transition.