DUBRAVKA NEGRE, Head of the Western Balkan Regional Office of the European Investment Bank (EIB): Strong Support to Public and Private Sector

We plan to catalyse EUR 3.5 bn investments in the Western Balkans over the next 3 years

EIB decided to open the Regional Office for the Western Balkans in 2010. Serbia, the largest country in the region in term of size, population and economic activity was and still is the largest country of our activities. For the time being the EIB is represented in the whole region through our Regional Office in Belgrade, but nonetheless in view of the Economic Resilience Initiative we plan to step up our presence, which will help us to increase visibility and accessibility across countries of the Western Balkans.

As the financial arm of the EU, what is the role of the EIB in strengthening EU values among the countries seeking to become new member states?

EIB, as the EU Bank, aims to facilitate integration of the accession countries into the EU. It does so, by supporting infrastructure upgrade and private sector development, and often by blending grants with our already very favourable financing conditions. As an EU institutions, the principles, regulations and and acquis of the EU are imbedded into our procedures, in particular when it comes to transparency, environmental protection, public procurement rules, promoting competition and efficiency, which are all strong EU values. We implement our procedures in all the projects we finance. All the countries of the Western Balkans including Serbia aspire to become the member of the EU. Adhering to EIB guidelines and procedures which are based on the EU acquis helps them to implement the EU values through the projects we develop together.

What are the major landmarks in the EIB engagement in the Balkans as the EU institution?

EIB is the largest lender to the Western Balkan economies with close to EUR 9 billion of the approved financing in the last 15 years. We have supported and plan to continue to support in the future infrastructure development across many sectors ranging from transport, energy, health, education, research and development, and municipal infrastructure including environmental protection. Infrastructure development can raise countries’ productivity, foster economic growth and consequently improve living standards of people. The accessibility and quality of infrastructure determines countries’ attractiveness to foreign investors. The role of the EIB Group is also to facilitate access to finance for SMEs at better financial conditions and channel increased long term funding through our partnership with the banking sector. SMEs are important drivers of growth, employment and innovation in the Western Balkans, and employ over70% of the active working population in the region. We are cooperating with the largest banking groups in the countries of the region, including among others, Credit Agricole, Erste Bank, Intesa San Paolo, Pro-Credit Bank, Raiffeisen, Société Générale, Unicredit as well as developments banks and development funds in FYROM, Montenegro,and in Serbia, the National Bank which channels EIB’s APEX loan schemes.

In which areas EIB contribution to Serbian progress was the most significant in the past 15 years?

The biggest EIB project in the public sector is in the transport sector, notably EIB’s contributionto the construction of a Pan European Corridor X, on E-75 and E-80 motorway sections for whichFinance Contracts in the amount of EUR 579 million have been signed with the Republic of Serbia. The largest project in the private sector is EIB contribution of EUR 500 million to the expansion of car plant in Kragujevac, with launch of a new Fiat car production, which is being re-modelled this year. We are also very proud of our support to EIB’s health sector through the financing of upgrade and reconstruction of the Clinical Centres across Serbia, our supportto the education sector where dozens of primary and secondary schools across Serbia have been rehabilitated, modernized and constructed; finalization of theTechnology park in Belgrade, Petnica Science camp, Svilajnac Natural Science Museum, rehabilitationof the National Library in Belgrade and the reconstruction of the Jugoslovenska Kinoteka through our municipal loans, through which hundreds of municipal improvements in the area of infrastructure, health and education but also culturalheritage have been ensured.

How the EIBs plans to support the integration process of Serbia and the Western Balkans into the EU in the next 5 years?

The EIB has launched its Economic Resilience Initiative (ERI) endorsed by the EU Council last year, to increase its support and help build resilience in the Western Balkans. The countries in this region are already facing significant economic challenges, including high levels of public debt, not enough economic 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 region’s 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 and at the same time help accelerate region’s EU accession process. It will focus on raising additional investments to support of sustainable growth, vital infrastructure and social cohesion, including creation of new jobs 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 the Concessional lending (combining grants and loans). 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. To that end we aim to invest additional EUR 3.5 billion in the next three years in the region, and expect that Serbia will attract some 50% of that investment as the largest and strongest economy in the Western Balkans.

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