During my mandate, the EIB invested EUR 3.3 billion in the region, mostly for the transportation sector and small and medium enterprises
From 2016 to 2020, Belgrade resident Dubravka Negre held the position of Head of the Regional Office of the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the Western Balkans. During her tenure, she was facilitating investments in numerous projects in numerous projects in the field of education, science, health, justice, entrepreneurship, transport, energy, environment protection, which contributed to the development of Serbia and the region. She spoke for Diplommacy and Commerce magazine about the projects she is most proud of, as well as about her future plans.
What will be EIB’s priorities in 2021, considering that a large part of funds from the previously announced aid package for the Western Balkans will go to Serbia?
In 2020, the EIB adopted EUR 1.7 billion worth COVID-19 financial package for the Western Balkans, as a part of EU institutions support jointed within Team Europe initiative. Over the course of last year, over EUR 1 billion has been mobilized to help the region alleviate the negative consequences of the crisis.
Apart from this short-term immediate support, the EIB Group signed important investments to ensure longer-term recovery, development of the private sector and vital infrastructure. For Serbia, one of the most significant transaction includes EUR 65 million allocated to digitalization of over 1500 schools, that will enable introduction of fast internet, IT equipment and e-learning platforms. This project will help teachers to obtain digital skills and conduct online lessons more efficiently. The other important investment is the very first EIB impact loan aiming to encourage small and medium enterprises to employ people from vulnerable groups on a long-term basis.
“For Serbia, one of the most significant transaction includes EUR 65 million allocated to digitalization of over 1500 schools”
In 2021, the EIB will deliver finance for digital and energy infrastructure in Serbia, modernization of transport infrastructure and support to the private sector recovery.
A new package of government assistance to the Serbian economy was announced in mid-February. How would you rate the Serbian government’s general response to the crisis?
Small and medium enterprises in the Western Balkans are very vulnerable to shocks and it was essential to provide them with liquidity and working capital as to maintain employment and businesses. Under Team Europe support, the EIB facilitated new credit lines for the countries in the region under favourable and flexible conditions, in cooperation with the local banks to help local business address their liquidity and investment needs.
In a longer-term, increasing resilience of the private sector and creating an ambient for inclusive employment, innovation and women entrepreneurship will be crucial for their future development. These goals, along with digital and green transition of the regional market will ensure sustainability and competitiveness in the post-covid era.
“In 2021, the EIB will deliver finance for digital and energy infrastructure in Serbia, modernization of transport infrastructure and support to the private sector recovery”
In 2020, the European Investment Fund, part of EIB Group signed the first agreement with a local partner in Serbia worth EUR 60 million under COSME Digital Programme that will help Serbian small businesses improve their digital capacities.
Significant boost to private sector development in the region will be the creation of new Western Balkan Guarantee Facility that is outlined within new Economic and Investment Plan by the European Commission. This initiative is expected to potentially mobilize up to EUR 20 billion of new investments for the region.
At the end of your term, as head of the EIB Office for Serbia and the region, what would you single out as your greatest achievements?
I would single out EIB investments dedicated to education, innovation and science, such as the renovation and equipping of innovation laboratories within Serbia’s most relevant universities, as well as the construction of three Innovation Centres and Technological Parks in Belgrade, Niš and Novi Sad. They represent a turning point for Serbian science and research and importance of these institutions will grow steadily in years to come. I am personally proud that generations of talented students and entrepreneurs will be able to develop their innovation potentials in their own country in the advanced areas such as the virtual reality, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, environmental protection and IT.
In which sectors did EIB invest the most during your mandate?
During my mandate, the EIB invested EUR 3.3 billion in the region, mostly for the transportation sector (EUR 1.6 billion) and small and medium enterprises (EUR 1.2 billion). These investments helped building modern, safer roads all over the region that improved commuting for millions of people and exchange of goods and commodities between Western Balkans and the European Union..
I am glad that we’ve supported the reform of the education system in Serbia and Montenegro by providing funds for rehabilitation couple of hundreds of primary, secondary schools and universities. Generations of schoolchildren will be able to learn in modern, equipped facilities.
I am also proud that during my mandate the largest Serbian judicial institution was refurbished, modernised and equipped after 40 years of existence. That is why today the Palace of Justice in Belgrade is able to advance better and faster legal processes.
Thanks to EUR 365 million that EIB provided for the healthcare infrastructure, the redevelopment and extension of tertiary hospital services was enabled for the Clinical Centre Nis and Banja Luka. A new hospital in Bijeljina was built in a capacity of 16,000m2. We hope that these projects contributed to more efficient response to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the longer-term, millions of people will be able to receive better medical care, especially when the Clinical Centres in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Kragujevac have completed their construction.
What impressions are you leaving Serbia with in terms of cooperation with both the state and private sector?
I can say that I was able to learn so much from every individual I was cooperating with, but, at the same, share my 15 years long experience in the management of public and private investments all over Europe. From that fruitful cooperation with the representatives of the local governments, EU institutions, clients, business partners and other relevant key stakeholders, significant progress has been achieved.
What personal achievements and projects are you especially proud of? How important is the support of the environment, family and friends when you hold such a responsible position?
I am proud of the fact that I was able to come back to my country of origin and support its development in the EU integration and better life for its people. Many initiatives started rolling out after decades of negligence due to lack of funds and significant steps forward have been made in the key sectors.
I wish that I could have done more in some important areas such as climate action and environment, but and I am glad to see that the public is finally realizing the importance of these kind of projects. Leaders of the Western Balkans last year have signed a declaration for rolling out the Green Agenda and I hope that this event will propel initiatives in the environment sector. In Serbia, we are financing the construction of sewerage network in Palilula municipality and waste water system in several cities, and those investments have materialised during my mandate.
As the EU climate bank, the EIB adopted a Climate Bank Roadmap in 2020, committing to align all its investments with the Paris Agreement and achieve ambitions goal to make Europe the first environmentally-neutral continent until 2050. The EIB plans to allocate €1 trillion to climate and environmental projects during the decade ahead and increase financing for climate action to at least 50% by 2025.
The EIB will support green transition of the Western Balkan countries by providing technical and financial help for renewable energy projects. This transition will include introduction of diverse energy mix with lower greenhouse gas emission in the first phase, until complete switch to carbon-neutral energy resources. That is a long-term process, but I am glad that it is finally starting.
What challenges do you expect to face this year on a personal level and could you tell us what projects you will be working on in the future?
For the time being, I plan to continue my career in the EIB on a new position where I will be responsible for management policies for EIB investments all over the globe. In that way, I hope to be able to contribute to more efficient project appraisal, approval and implementation, having in mind the extensive experience I was able to obtain in my up to date carrier, also from the ground in the Western Balkan region. On a personal level, being a mother and supporting my children with their education and future career choices, is going to be the biggest challenge of all in the period to come.