As the EBRD opens its first permanent office in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region (SEMED) in Tunisia, I am very excited by the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. This is an enormously important milestone for both Tunisia and the Bank. Tunisia has been a harbinger of change in the region, and I am confident the country will be just as effective in leading the region in terms of economic transition as well.
The EBRD began investment in Tunisia less than a year ago, and opening this office will allow for greater engagement in both Tunisia and the region at large. We have made three investments so far that totally fit our operational priorities for the country and highlight the regional dimension; two investments were commitments of up to € 40 million to two regional private equity funds that include Tunisia in their geographic focus, and these funds are expected to scale up support to private companies that invest in expanding their markets and enhancing their competitiveness. The Bank has also invested up to €15 million in the Spanish company Borges Holding and Borges Tunisia as ultimate beneficiary to support olive oil production that targets external markets.
Our strategic priorities are focussed on those areas where the transition gaps are significant and where the Bank’s finance and expertise are complementary to what commercial and non-commercial funding sources can provide.
On a personal level, I am thrilled by the opportunity to act as a pioneer in both Tunisia and the SEMED region. After my relocation from Moscow to London last year, I joined the Equity Funds Team, was actively involved in preparing the EBRD’s activities in the region and led the first equity investment in the country.
As I began to travel across Tunisia, I appreciated amazing landscapes, from the desert to the Mediterranean coast and blue sea – immense lands of olives, grapes and any kinds of fruits and vegetables one can imagine finding in this part of the world – such great variety and diversity! As French and Canadian, I not only have the language in common but the love of fresh food and nature.
I’ve also been gaining a taste of the country’s rich and diverse cultures, with such a long history from the Punic era; Tunisia has succeeded in being one nation, gathering people from so many various origins. Hospitality (I’ve already heard a thousand warm greetings of “bienvenue!”), open-mindedness and tolerance are strong assets of the Tunisian people. Today, Tunisia has been a pioneer itself in the region for affecting positive social change, and it leads North Africa in championing women’s rights.
I know that our relationship with the country will be long and fruitful.