When the EIB is learning from cities: more EU money for local energy?



David Donnerer

Publication date

February 8, 2018

On Monday, the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank (EIB) admitted for the first time city delegates to its annual meeting with civil society. All ears, the EIB Board of Directors was listening to and debating with the locally experienced such as Energy Cities’ president and Lord Mayor of Heidelberg, Eckart Würzner. The bank is one of the world’s largest lenders and only allowed to back projects that are in line with EU policy. So, in view of the EU’s ambitions to comply with the Paris Agreement, how can this supranational public bank better support cities in their energy transition?

It was a premiere and a privilege to be the voice of European city leaders: Eckart Würzner, Lord Mayor of Germany’s sustainability pioneers, was the only city councillor attending the dedicated session on sustainable cities during the EIB event. Together with speakers from the 100 Resilient Cities network and the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transporthe discussed with the EIB Board of Directors how EIB funding could better serve urban sustainable projects.

Putting cities’ needs on the EU bank’s agenda

Eckart Würzner made a long and passionate story short when sharing his city’s longstanding experience in climate protection with the EIB directors. Out of Heidelberg’s broad range of successful measures, he highlighted the zero-emission district Heidelberg Bahnstadt, its strict, highly efficient passive house standard for buildings and its transport infrastructure policy. With the latter, Heidelberg has reached bike-city Copenhagen standards: 3 out of 4 citizens commute by bike.

Würzner praised the EIB’s ELENA (European Local Energy Assistance) programme. As Energy Cities’ study in 5 member cities reported, the dedicated technical assistance provided by EIB experts to municipal staff strengthened the local governance, project development and investment capacity of many EU local authorities. Würzner also suggested a viable complement to the support offered by centralised public banks such as the EIB: he urged to revive the decentralised banking system, embodied by local saving banks that are supporting citizens through microcredits.

A stronger focus for stronger cities

Building on the EIB’s encouraging efforts through ELENA and other funding instruments (e.g. municipal framework loans), Eckart Würzner provided a set of recommendations to the EIB Board of Directors on how the EU’s non-profit bank can better support the local energy transition:

“The future of the energy system is decentralised.”, he stated. “In order to reflect this development, the EIB has to finance more decentralised, renewable energy infrastructure in cities. We also have to make sure that all EIB urban funds are easy to access and deliver to all European cities, whether they are small, medium- or large-sized. Finally, the ELENA program of the EIB is a success story, but we can still do much more with it. It has to become a key instrument also for small cities, not only large ones. For this, ELENA must adapt to become more flexible, adjusted to cities’ needs and open to facilitate new partnerships between cities and their stakeholders”. 

The EIB Board of Directors, in particular Vice-presidents Alexander Stubb and Andrew McDowell, appreciated the frank exchange with Heidelberg’s Mayor. They expressed their willingness to continue their discussions with city leaders in the coming months.

“It is good to see that the EIB is so open-minded on supporting more directly the energy transition of cities. We will continue the dialogue with the EIB Board of Directors, and look forward to a stronger role of the bank in providing much needed funds and advice for the energy transition of Europe’s cities”, recapped Würzner the fruitful meeting in Luxembourg.


Eckart Würzner with Alexander Stubb, EIB vice-president and member of its Board of Directors

The yearly EIB meeting with civil society is a key pillar of the bank’s stakeholder engagement, as it is the only opportunity for stakeholders to directly discuss with the EIB Board of Directors. In its last six editions, the EIB directors debated only with representatives from NGOs, think tanks, research institutions or trade unions. The 2018 edition was a premiere with cities’ voices being heard for the first time by the EIB Board of Directors. The bank organised a dedicated session on supporting sustainable cities on their path to a low-carbon future.