On 23 January, Italy's National Council for Economic Labour (CNEL) held a meeting, under the auspices of the European Economic and Social Committee, entitled
EFSI: a tool for growth. The conference had two aims: to promote the use of EFSI and to examine how this financial instrument could be useful in the period 2021-2027 in relation to the European Commission's priorities: research, Erasmus, cohesion policy, agriculture, Ten-T, defence and immigration.
The event was divided into two panels. The first was the European panel, with EP EFSI rapporteur José Manuel Fernandes, EIB vice-president Dario Scannapieco, Chiarion Casoni from DG ECFIN, James Watson from Business Europe and Renaud de Matharel, CEO of Cube and EFSI beneficiary for the CUBE Infrastructure Fund project. The second was the Italian panel, in which representatives of companies (including EFSI beneficiary Linkem), associations, banks and trade unions voiced their views on the financial instrument.
After a brief introduction by CNEL president Tiziano Treu, I presented the EESC opinion on EFSI 2.0, stressing some of the focal points: the recommendation that EFSI 2.0 should aim for ever greater involvement of private capital; the importance of keeping a market-driven emphasis, reinforcing the additionality of the EFSI; the fact that EFSI 2.0 should focus its own interventions on sectors of the future, such as Industry 4.0, smart energy, digital and transport infrastructure networks, environmental protection and cross border projects, including large-scale European projects.
Mr Fernandes explained the key role of the European Parliament in the extension of EFSI 2.0 and ran through all the successes of the Juncker Plan, albeit saying he thought it needed more visibility (especially for SMEs) and more geographical balance. He added that EFSI 3.0 would go on with structural funds but would not replace them.
EIB vice-president Scannapieco gave a general overview on EFSI from his bank's perspective, pointing out that 550 000 SMEs would be involved with the financial instrument. He also stressed the importance of reinforcing the Advisory Hub (referred to in the EESC opinion) to help countries carry out structural projects for cohesion policy aims.
Mr Scannapieco concluded by looking at the role of EFSI in the social field, giving some examples of social housing projects and infrastructure projects, such as the new, state-of-the-art hospital in Treviso and the KOS project for medical instruments in cancer research. Chiarion Casoni from DG ECFIN highlighted how the Juncker Plan had relaunched infrastructure investment throughout the European Union. He also explained the "smart use" of the EU budget for the next economic programme, which will be not only demand driven, but also policy driven, with a focus on the future priorities of the European Union, such as sustainable development and immigration.
James Watson said that Business Europe had endorsed the EFSI programme and stressed three focal points: the fact that it would take ten years to make up the investment gap, that the impact of EFSI on the real economy had to be studied and that he hoped, for the future, that the next MFF would be focused on competitiveness.
The Italian panel gave rise to a wealth of interesting ideas, including from Davide Rota, CEO of Linkem, a company founded in 2002 to bring easy broadband access to Italian families that now has more than 800 employees. Mr Rota explained that EFSI procedures were easier (25% paper) and quicker than normal bank loans, while still being thorough. He is continuing to use EFSI for his Broadband Wireless Access project, which involves the company investing in Italy to migrate its Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) network from WiMAX to future-proof LTE Time Division Duplex (TDD) technology, and to expand its coverage of Italian households from 45% (at the end of 2015) to at least 70% by the end of 2018.
Here are some final thoughts on the meeting. We stand today at the mid point of EFSI 1.0 and 2.0 and have some very positive results, in particular for SMEs. However, with about EUR 250 bn. committed compared with an expected EUR 500 bn. at the end, there are still plenty of opportunities and things to do. The extended scope and aims of EFSI 2.0 should, in principle, enable the validity of the tool to be further demonstrated. EFSI 3.0, further refined, would be a useful instrument to complement, without replacing, almost all the financial programmes in the next – 2021-2023 – EU Multiannual Financial Framework.