Late yesterday, journalists received in their inboxes a fairly standard-looking press release from the European Investment Bank, the financing arm of the EU.
“The EIB will exclude all future coal finance as part of its new energy policy” the release proclaimed. Several news outlets including Bloomberg ran the story, explaining that the investments in coal had been frozen to align the EIB's lending with the EU's climate change objectives.
But the press release was a hoax. The EIB was forced to send out a statement disavowing the fake press release and saying they will take legal action against the individuals responsible. Bloomberg quickly retracted its story.
The hoax came a day before the EIB's annual press conference in Brussels at which the lender outlines its policy for the coming year. The timing put EIB president Wener Hoyer in the awkward position at his speech this morning of having to stress that the idea of the EIB giving up lending to coal was “pure nonsense”, while at the same time saying that the EIB is a leader in the fight against climate change.
Not content to let him suffer just this embarrassment, the climate activists interrupted the press conference to give Hoyer a fake award for the EIB's supposed decision to stop investing in coal. There was an extended moment of confusion in the press room (video here) as the staffers, mistakenly thinking the activists were part of the event, started to hand one of them the microphone. The EIB organisers had to wildly gesture at him to stop, but they let the activist continue the fake ceremony and left the prize on stage – an flower vase shaped like a smoke stack.
All in all, it was a bit of a PR nightmare for the bank. The hoax press release, combined with the fake award ceremony stunt, prompted numerous questions from journalists about the bank's efforts on climate change. Hoyer said the EIB is not in any position to end investments in coal, but stressed that there will be a review of the bank's energy policy in June.
The activists, a group calling themselves Counterbalance, say their intention was to embarrass the EIB into turning their hoax into a self-fulfilling prophesy. “We wanted to show to the bank how European citizens expect the EIB to behave,” said Berber Verpoest of Counter Balance after the stunt. “On the one hand, this is the bank of the EU with the goal to fight climate change; on the other hand, the EIB has been lending billions to coal, gas and other fossil fuels and until last year its dirty energy loans were equal to its support for clean energy.”
The EIB's energy policy review only comes around every five years, so the activists see this as their only opportunity to force the EIB to stop subsidising coal. But it remains to be seen whether this stunt will really put pressure on the bank, or will instead be remembered just as an amusing sideshow for journalists during what has been a very busy week.
Dave Keating reports on the interrelated issues of environment, energy, climate change, transport, health, agriculture, fisheries and research for European Voice. In this blog, Dave brings you insights into the sometimes byzantine world of European Union policymaking as well as the equally confusing nature of life in Brussels. Originally from outside New York City, Dave has lived in Europe for six years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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