27 June 2011 | By James Swift
World events have more than a passing interest for Emanuel Maurice, general counsel at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as they can directly affect his workload.
Cataclysmic political and economic events are conspiring to keep general counsel Emmanuel Maurice and his team of lawyers at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) busy for a long time.
The international financing institution, which uses project financing to help fragile economies move towards a free market, was created in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse to help Eastern Bloc countries adjust to life after Communism.
It was going well, too, and there were even plans to start withdrawing funding in eight Central and Eastern European countries by 2010 - plans that were rudely scuppered by the global financial crisis.
“The crisis had a huge effect on our work,” says Maurice. “In 2006 the members of the bank decided that a number of former Communist countries no longer needed help and we were planning to withdraw, but we had to put that on hold to ensure that none of the countries suffered a transitional regression.”
Then, just as the dust was settling after the crash, the Arab Spring kicked off, opening up a whole new region for the EBRD to consider as countries in the Middle East and North Africa look to wean their economies off heavy-handed state involvement.
“The Arab Spring’s going to pose a challenge for us,” admits Maurice.
Maurice has been with the bank, which is headquartered in London, since its inception, joining in 1991 as assistant general counsel. In the past 20 years he has watched it grow around him both in size and in sophistication.
“The EBRD was created to help countries make the transition from Communism to a market economy but, unlike the World Bank, we pursue this through project financing,” he explains. “We started with just eight countries where we had operations; now we invest around e9bn [£8bn] a year in 29 countries.”
Most recently the bank has added Turkey to the list of countries where it invests. Although Turkey was never Communist, according to Maurice it is in transition “because the state has played an active role in the economy”.
The EBRD is funded by 61 countries and two institutions (The European Community and the European Investment Bank) that act as shareholders. Despite the
make-up of its shareholders the EBRD’s emphasis is on private sector projects, as stipulated in the treaty by which it was established. Last year private sector projects accounted for around 73 per cent of its work.
As general counsel Maurice’s remit spans the legal department and two other teams: the operation administration unit that works with bankers and lawyers on projects, and the records management and archive department. The EBRD has around 70 lawyers, although this number fluctuates since it has an associate programme whereby lawyers from countries of operation work with the bank for two years before returning to private practice. US lawyers make up the highest percentage of the EBRD team but there are also lawyers from the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Russia and Kazakhstan in the London office.
Maurice is part of the operations committee and sits with the board of directors, advising the bank’s president on thorny legal issues. However, a big part of his job involves institutional issues. The EBRD regulates itself and is not governed by UK labour law.
“We adopt and enforce our own laws,” says Maurice, “but we must ensure they are broadly consistent with the laws of outside jurisdictions.”
EBRD financing for projects ranges between e5m and e250m, with financing provided directly or through intermediaries such as local banks or investment funds. When the bank begins a new investment a lawyer is assigned to the project – along with bankers and environmentalists - and the job is not considered done until the financing has been repaid.
“Assignments can last as long as 15 years,” says Maurice. “It’s not always possible to have the same lawyer on a project from start to finish, but we try to keep continuity for the sake of the bank.”
Public sector projects undertaken by the EBRD and agreed with sovereign entities are dealt with entirely in-house by the bank, but for private sector projects the EBRD uses outside counsel, although it does not have a panel. Maurice says he used to work primarily with international firms - from the UK and US mostly - but these days his team works increasingly with local law firms in jurisdictions where the bank has projects.
Most likely, the next stop for the EBRD is Egypt. Following the Arab Spring the country has asked to become a country of operation. Provided it meets the EBRD’s criteria (the most important of which is that a country is democratically run), Egypt could start receiving lending as soon as spring 2012. But by then, who knows what other cataclysmic event could be calling for the attention of Maurice and the EBRD?
Name: Emanuel Maurice
Organisation:European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Position: General counsel
Reporting to: EBRD president Thomas Mirow
Turnover (new business):e9bn (£8bn)
Number of employees:1,500
Legal capability:75 lawyers
Legal spend: £25m
Main law firms:Allen & Overy, Baker Botts, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Chadbourne & Parke, Clifford Chance, CMS Cameron McKenna, DLA Piper, Gide Loyrette Nouel, Linklaters, Radu Taracila, Salans, White & Case