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The monies, originally coming from unspent EU funds, were earmarked in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis to help kickstart the European economy, leading to heated negotiations on how they should be spent (see 'Background').
The European Commission is investing €125 million in the European Energy Efficiency Fund (EEEF), the European Investment Bank (EIB) is putting up €75 million, and the mostly state-owned Italian bank Cassa Depositi e Presiti is committing another €60 million.
Philippe Maystadt, the EIB's president, told EurActiv that Deutsche Bank was also contributing €5 million, "but this is because Deutsche Bank was selected as the Fund's investment manager," he clarified.
"We asked it to make a small contribution to the fund to make sure that there is an alignment of interests," he continued. "It's common practice."
The Fund was conceived as a means of leveraging finance for efficiency projects, which might not otherwise offer high enough short-term returns to attract investors.
"The idea was that monies left over from the European recovery fund at the start of the economic crisis could be used by local authorities for small-scale energy efficiency initiatives," Belgian Socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, told EurActiv.
The project was lauded in the European Parliament but frostily received in the EU Council of Ministers, where the UK and the Netherlands proposed redistributing leftover funds back to member states instead.
Funding market failures?
Finally, it was decided that the monies would be used to help leverage private and public sector investments for projects, particularly in urban areas, that could help meet the EU's 2020 goals of 20% energy savings and emissions reductions on 1990 levels.
But this did not stop private sector mutterings that the EEEF would bank-roll market failures.
"I would not speak about 'market failures' but there is a little grey zone," Maystadt admitted to EurActiv. "There are some projects that might look like giving a return later than some private investors would expect."
The EEEF would provide "positive returns" within "four or five years" for these types of project, he said. But he refused to be drawn on percentages.
"The most important return is the saving on energy," he averred.
The first projects funded by the EEEF are likely to involve public sector building renovations in Italian municipalities.
Although vague, the Fund's criteria could also cover sustainable energy investments in combined heat and power systems, decentralised renewable energy sources, clean urban transport and infrastructure modernisation, from smart grids to street lights.
"The structure of the fund, with public money taking a first-loss position, and some of the money from the EIB, CDP and Deutsche Bank coming in at the mezzanine level, will provide private investors with the assurance they need to come in," Carl Koch-Weser, vice-chairman of the Deutsche Bank group, told the EEEF's launch in Brussels.
The initial €265 million pot was "a starting point," Kathleen Van Brempt told EurActiv. But Maystadt confirmed that there was "no fixed deadline" for the EEEF to reach its targeted capital fund of €800 million.