Dario Scannapieco, Vice-President European Investment Bank (EIB): Helping Serbia to build resilient communities

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The EIB is the largest lender to the Serbian economy with EUR 4.7 billion of the approved financing, and it welcomes Serbia’s effort to speed up the implementation of the already approved projects. Atop of that the EIB will support those communities that are struggling with the influx of refugees.

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After some slowdown, Serbia become more agile in implementing projects supported by the European Investment Bank (EIB). This was mostly visible in infrastructure investments, says Mr. Dario Scannapieco, EIB Vice-President, who recently visited Serbia and discussed with the Government further priorities in the mutual cooperation. Apart from its traditional sectors of support, the EIB will use its Economic Resilience Initiative (ERI) to support sustainable growth, vital infrastructure and social cohesion in local communities facing recent refugee and migration crisis. This new initiative was endorsed by the European Council in June 2016 and is focused on the Western Balkans and Southern Neighbourhood.

The Bank is also focused on support to SMS and midcaps and their innovation capacities which were recognized the major driver of growth. “In the Western Balkans, as elsewhere in Europe, it is critically important that companies get the finance they need for innovation including adoption of advanced technologies and innovative practices in order to move towards the technological frontier and raise productivity levels”, says Scannapieco.

  1. Since 2011, the bank of the European Union has financed nearly 30 projects in Serbia. Are you satisfied with the pace of implementation of these projects?

The Bank’s support to the country started in 2001 and today the EIB is the largest lender to the economy with EUR 4.7 billion of the approved financing.

From 2012 onwards, the difficult economic environment and budget constraints have led to a significant decrease in new infrastructure investments and a slowdown in implementation of EIB’s ongoing project. However, progress has been noticed recently in the implementation and disbursements of projects, in particular in the road sector.

  1. What are in general the priorities when it comes to the new EIB projects in Serbia that were discussed during your recent meeting with the government?

The EIB will continue lending to the ‘traditional’ core infrastructure. Further support will be considered for projects falling under the Connectivity Agenda, such as transport and energy where the EIB support will complement the grant financing of the European Commission, which will provide Technical assistance contribution in the range of EUR 25-30 m and Investment grant contribution of some EUR 100-150 million annually for 2014-2020 for the Western Balkans region.

Potential investments may be considered in sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency and the environment, which have a positive impact on climate change. This year and beyond, the Bank will continue to support health, education, research and development and judiciary infrastructure projects, municipal infrastructure, but we also envisage continuing support of SMEs, through the commercial banks and the Government.

More support for Serbia’s resilience to migrant crisis is also being envisaged in the upcoming period.

  1. Can you tell us more details about the EIB Projects in the fields of infrastructure, social housing and migration?

The EIB has launched its Economic Resilience Initiative (ERI) to increase its support and help build resilience in countries hit by the recent refugee and migration crisis, namely in the Western Balkans and Southern Neighbourhood.

The countries in both regions are already facing significant economic challenges, including high levels of public debt, low growth and high levels of unemployment, especially amongst young people. The influx of large numbers of refugees is putting poor infrastructure under additional strain. Existing financial instruments do not adequately meet the regions’ requirements. Nor do they provide financing on sufficiently favourable terms for the critical investments required to stimulate growth and job opportunities and ensure basic public services to both the local and refugee populations.

The ERI is evidence of the EIB’s determination to help meet these challenges. It is a new initiative endorsed by the European Council in June 2016. It will focus on raising additional investments to support of sustainable growth, vital infrastructure and social cohesion, including through creating new jobs and opportunities for both host and refugee communities. This will involve support both for the public and the private sectors including in Serbia. In line with the Bank’s already existing activities, investments will strive to support young people, women and climate action.

With these investments, we could improve services like clean water, energy and electricity in regions where services are stretched, and improve education, healthcare, local transport and urban services. This will help to ensure that refugees and local communities alike have access to education and healthcare. We can also support the creation of jobs through more support for small businesses and micro-enterprises, encouraging them and other companies to grow their businesses and in so doing to increase job opportunities.

The ERI will support efforts by the public sector including municipalities and public sector entities, but also by providing support to the private sector through additional risk taking capacity and more volume as well as Concessional lending (combining loans and grants). In addition the ERI would allow the Bank to accelerate the finalisation of key infrastructure projects and provide additional financial and technical support on the ground where it is needed.

  1. How the EIB will support the development of research and innovation in the information technology sector in Serbia?

As we all know, innovation is a fundamental ingredient for ensuring long-term competitiveness. Investments in research and development can create positive spill-overs onto products and processes.

In the Western Balkans, as elsewhere in Europe, it is critically important that companies get the finance they need for innovation – not only for research and development but also for adopting more advanced technologies and innovative practices in order to move towards the technological frontier and raise productivity levels. That is why the EIB Group and the European Commission have made it a top priority to facilitate access to finance for innovative businesses in Europe and have developed a new generation of financial instruments including equity, to help innovative firms access finance more easily under the new European strategy for the Horizon 2020 programme.

The EIB has outlined the new instruments available to support investment by innovation-focused and growing companies under the InnovFin programme. Financing is either provided directly or via a financial intermediary, usually a bank. In addition to more financing being made available, InnovFin also offers a greater range of loan and guarantee products which can be tailored to innovators’ needs, including technical assistance programme.

  1. You are overseeing the financing of the SME and Mid cap sector. How do you estimate the potentials of the sector in Serbia?

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are important drivers of growth, employment and innovation in Serbia as well as in Europe. SMEs in Serbia employ over 70% of the active working population. Supporting access to finance for SMEs and midcaps is a top priority for the EIB Group.

The role of the EIB Group is to facilitate access to finance for SMEs at better financial conditions and channel increased funding sources intensify our partnership with the banking sector. Since 2009, EIB has signed loans for EUR 1.5 bn with banks and leasing companies in Serbia, supporting over 3,000 investments carried out by SMEs, Midcaps and local authorities.

These operations have involved the largest banking groups in the country, including among others, Credit Agricole, Erste, Intesa San Paolo, ProCredit Bank, Raiffeisen, Société Générale, Unicredit as well as the Republic of Serbia through the APEX loan schemes. These operations have been implemented with a high degree of success, providing considerable support to the SMEs sector which suffered significantly from the financial and economic crisis.

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