Prime Ministers, dear friends, representatives of the world of business, ladies and gentlemen - welcome to the EBRD!
It gives me great pleasure to open this, the fourth Western Balkans Investment Summit here at our headquarters.
Let me also especially thank Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic for joining us today and agreeing to share his vision for the region as EU Presidency.
- The summit
Some of you were here for the historic first summit, held in this very same auditorium with all the regional Prime Ministers present, six years ago.
Congratulations and ‘Respect’ to Edi Rama, the only one of the six Prime Ministers here today who has taken part in all the summits so far.
And let me use this opportunity to express our solidarity with him and the people of Albania after the recent earthquake.
We reaffirm our commitment to the reconstruction as pledged by the international community at the donors conference in Brussels last week.
And I pay tribute to the resilience of the Albanian people in dealing with this tragic event.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am hugely proud to have launched the first Western Balkans Summit in EBRD back in 2014.
Not only has that format endured, it has become the template for all the other summits we have organised for other EBRD regions ever since.
So here the Western Balkans were in the vanguard of change. A benchmark.
Within the region itself, that 2014 event launched a new format for regional cooperation: the “Western Balkans Six at the Level of Prime Ministers”.
In August of that same year Chancellor Merkel hosted the Western Balkans Summit in Berlin, giving the format the strongest possible boost.
More recently, I have been heartened to see – 15 years after Thessaloniki – the re-establishment of regular joint EU-Western Balkans Summits. The next such Summit will be in Zagreb in May, hosted by Prime Minister Plenkovic.
I look forward to joining that meeting, and I am sure we will hear more today from Andrej about his plans.
Ladies and gentlemen, the region needs leadership from the EU, a key force driving its transformation, one which supports reforms and promotes integration.
And the region also requires top quality coordination between the different stakeholders involved – among the Western Balkans Six in the first place, and then between the Commission, IFIs and other donors as well.
And, speaking as the President of a global bank with a European heart, I can tell you the whole world wants this region to succeed.
In Brussels last week, it was clear to all my interlocutors in the Parliament and the Commission that EBRD has a unique contribution to make.
More specifically, to assist our recipient countries here in their efforts to integrate faster into the EU.
These EBRD Western Balkans summits in London also have a special role to play here.
They do so thanks to their unique format, marrying politics and business via direct dialogue between political leaders and business chiefs.
The latter, of course, make up the bulk of today’s audience.
These summits focus on practical results, actual projects, and on promoting the Western Balkans as an extremely attractive investment destination.
Today, I want you – investors – to gain new contacts, new insights, and to have every chance to interact and engage with the six Prime Ministers.
And – Prime Ministers - I want you to return home with tangible results to show for your visit: new deals, new signings, new ideas and new investment partners.
So I am glad to report there will be six EBRD project signings at this Summit today.
And this is also why there will be only two Panels today instead of the usual four, so that all the time can be used for the direct interaction I have just mentioned.
- The EBRD and the region: integration
Many of you will be aware that this is the last Western Balkans Summit at the EBRD that I will be chairing.
I can therefore take stock of what we have achieved in the region during my two terms of office as EBRD President.
And I want to pay tribute to my long-term political counsellor for the region, Oleg Levitin, who helped set these up.
I can also express the hope that my successor will continue to champion the cause of regional integration and cooperation in the Western Balkans.
We made this a priority region for the EBRD, formally enshrining this in the Bank’s Strategic Capital Framework which ends this year.
I very much hope that our Shareholders will continue this commitment at our Annual Meeting in May when we adopt the next five year strategy.
This commitment has translated into hard fact and we have seen a dramatic scaling up of our activity in the region.
Total EBRD investment in the Western Balkans now stands at almost €13 billion.
That figure is now going up by more than €1 billion every year. Last year by €1.3 billion, a record.
These six countries are among the top recipients of our investments, per capita, of all the countries where we work.
And are also among the top recipients of our technical cooperation and policy reform support.
And this is where I want to pay tribute to the Resident Offices in the Western Balkans, overseen by Zsusana Hargitai in Belgrade, under the supervision of regional Managing Director Charlotte Ruhe.
Those offices are your entry point to all the potential deals in the region and on the key policy issues.
Indeed, it is at the regional level that many of our policy initiatives will have the most impact.
I am glad to report that we are working with the European Commission to launch a Structural Reform Facility for the Western Balkans, with a focus on governance, an area which has in the past been one of the main impediments to the region’s economic growth.
Another important regional initiative which is an integral part of the Regional Economic Area – the SEE regional business registry portal - is performing very well.
We expect this regional portal, enhancing efficiency and transparency, to be fully operational with data from all Western Balkan registries next year.
Meanwhile, we have witnessed a visible strengthening of the way we pool resources in support of regional projects under the Western Balkans Investment Framework.
The EBRD has intensified delivery of several key cross-border infrastructure projects that will increase the free flow of commerce, competitiveness and opportunities for export growth. Regional connectivity is one of our key priorities in this region.
At the last Western Balkans Summit in 2018, I signed an MoU with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina on cooperation in the construction of Corridor Vc, which connects the Adriatic coast with Central Europe.
The EBRD’s contribution to this inspiring project is worth more than €700 million on the territory of BiH alone. I was delighted to sign a big part of that in Sarajevo last year.
We are currently preparing the financing for the construction of the remaining sections of the Corridor Vc in Croatia, which will allow the completion of the motorway between the Hungarian and Bosnian borders.
Andrej and I have discussed this several times and we hope to be able to sign very soon.
And together with the EIB and the European Commission, we are making progress on the Highway of Peace connecting Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, and plan to go to our Board for approval later this year.
- The EBRD and the region: energy and green
Regional integration through energy is similarly vital for the Western Balkans.
We should therefore celebrate another recent milestone for a project the EBRD has supported for many years: the completion of the maritime electricity network connecting Italy and Montenegro and on to the rest of the region.
Having signed a major project with TANAP, we look forward to the completion of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which would bring Caspian gas through Albania to Western Europe.
In the future it could also lead to a shift to gas-powered energy in several Western Balkans countries.
Such energy corridors are important for energy security in the region. However, they are also central to the green transition that is a strategic priority for the European Commission and indeed the world.
Investments in the green economy accounted for a record 46 percent of the EBRD’s overall investment in all our regions last year.
And this is why we have organised a separate Panel later this morning to discuss the latest developments in the renewable energy sector.
Ladies and gentlemen, I told our very successful Annual Meeting in Sarajevo last May that the Western Balkans have held a special place in my career and my heart for a quarter of a century now.
I salute the region for how much it has moved on from its troubled past, to build a stable macroeconomic climate, a favourable business environment and a productive labour force.
In particular, I admire the people of the region that I have got to know so well: they are educated, highly skilled, motivated and talented entrepreneurs.
I share their vision for their future, which is outward looking and strongly European in focus.
And I urge you – the investors - to join the EBRD in seizing the many, many opportunities the region has to offer.
Thank you very much.