Why the marble remains tarnished
The marble floors are still in place at the EBRD’s office on London’s Bishopsgate, the grand pillars and glass still deck the waiting area and the presidential suite remains with its grand vistas. But little else at the EBRD remains of the Jacques Attali era. Since he launched the bank with such a grandiose vision 10 years ago, it has fallen on leaner times. The grand claims to transform entire economies have been replaced by the limited promises to clean up management practices in its designated area of interest in eastern and central Europe. The men now running the show are no longer Europe’s heavy hitters but technocrats bent as much on curbing internal costs as doing imaginative deals.
As one observer of the early days of the European Bank for Reconstruction&Development notes: "It is an altogether more boring, less visible institution today."
It is also a more chastened and less optimistic institution. The EBRD's early bankers saw themselves as providing seed finance for the eager entrepreneurs waiting to throw off the Communist yoke and build businesses. When the Russian economy collapsed in 1998, this dream of a new pool of emerging markets died, and pressure grew to spend money on establishing the infrastructure necessary for markets to function.
As one EBRD banker puts it: "Our growth will be in Russia and we will have to do it through imposing corporate governance and building institutions, which is development banking through the back door.
"The challenge is in making money in Russia, Kazakhstan or Ukraine where issues of transparency, governance, civil society and a lack of checks and balances in the system are uppermost.