Spanish economist picked to lead the EU’s massive lending unit lays out her priorities

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New EIB chief Nadia Calviño says a priority is 'to speed up procedures'

The incoming head of one of the world’s largest development banks says it must become faster and more efficient in order to finance priorities such as the climate transition and Ukraine rebuild.

Nadia Calviño, Spain’s finance minister and deputy prime minister, was appointed head of the European Investment Bank Friday — in what has been touted as a boost for Spanish influence within the European Union. Known as the EU’s lending arm it approved some 75.86 billion euros ($81.6 billion) in new projects in 2022.

One of my priorities when I get to the European Investment Bank will be to see how to speed up procedures, how to make the institution, not leaner, but more efficient in funding, public and private investment,” Calviño told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday.

“We also have a European Union with 27 member states, and it is a complex construction. But still, it leads the green transition in the world, it has a leading role in many of today’s debates, and I think this leading role should be preserved going forward.”

The organization “has the capability, the ability, to mobilize large amounts of investment, public and private investment, in the areas of the green transition, the rebuilding of Ukraine, and all other European priorities. So indeed, I do think that we need an EIB which is fit for purpose to support European policies going forward,” she said. She said she will also look to increase co-operation and discussion between global multilateral development banks to create a “global safety net” fit to meet new challenges.

Calviño said that Spain had launched a “massive” investment program using funds from the NextGenerationEU pandemic recovery instrument.

“What we see is that we launched strategic projects in the area of electric vehicles, or precision health, or agri-tech … or chips. And this is actually attracting large private investments that see Spain as a great opportunity for them to set their bases and invest in R&D [research and development] and the development of new technologies. So I do think there is a chance for us to crowd in private investment if we do things right,” she said.

‘Global standard’ on AI

Asked about the negative reaction by some tech leaders to landmark new EU regulation around artificial intelligence, Calviño was firm that the bloc had reached the “right balance.”

The rules, agreed in an initial form by lawmakers Friday, divides AI into categories including “unacceptable” uses that must be banned, along with high, medium and low-risk. High-risk technologies will be required to comply with various requirements, including an impact assessment, in order to access the EU market.

Some parts of the industry may not want to have any regulation whatsoever. But, you know, citizens are also expecting the public sector to ensure that the development and the innovation in this area is going to preserve human rights, our values and actually go in the direction of improving humankind’s living conditions … from this point of view, I think that we’ve struck the right balance.”

“There is proportionality in the rules for smaller players and for large platforms. We’re going step by step, starting with artificial intelligence having to show that something, a picture, a video, has been created through artificial intelligence, to start with … It is a very important step forward so that Europe is also leading standard-setting at the global level.”

On whether the rules risked hampering the ability of Europe’s technology firms to grow and compete on the global stage, Calviño said: “This debate took place when we adopted the general data protection regulation. And many people said, well, companies are going to abandon Europe.”

“Actually, that has become the global standard. And I think it’s going to be something similar in artificial intelligence. But I agree, we need a global standard. And that’s why it’s important that the United Nations is also looking into these issues.”

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