The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will throw its weight behind a push for greater regional economic integration in the Western Balkans during a summit of regional leaders in Trieste, Italy, on 12 July.
The EBRD has long been a champion of Western Balkans integration, financing the development of transport and energy infrastructure links both within the region and with neighbours.
It remains committed to supporting key regional projects under the Western Balkans connectivity agenda, working closely together with the European Union (EU) and other International Financial Insitutions.
At the Trieste meetings, the EBRD will underscore its determination to go beyond this physical infrastructure development with support for integration across wider areas of economic activity.
The EBRD’s focus here will be on the promotion of the “soft connectivity agenda” – helping to forge links between markets, strengthening commerical ties and improving the business climate.
“The further economic integration of the Western Balkans is crucial to the economic development of the region as it continues to gear up for closer ties with the European Union,” said EBRD Vice President for Policy and Partnerships, Pierre Heilbronn, ahead of the Trieste Summit.
Mr Heilbronn added that the EBRD continued to support the EU ambitions of the Western Balkan nations and he urged them to stick to a path of economic reform and to reinvigorate the reform process where progress had slowed.
The EBRD is working across the region to promote reforms and is preparing a Memorandum of Understanding with Bosnia and Herzegovina on cooperation to strengthen the business environment after sealing similar accords to improve the investment climate with Albania and Serbia and develop the private sector in Kosovo.
During the Trieste Summit, Mr Heilbronn will also call for a strengthening of platforms to develop job-creating small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The EBRD will continue to take a leading role in this sector with its successful SME business model that combines investment in small firms with advice.
The EBRD is one of the largest institutional investors in the Western Balkans, with cumulative financing for the region of close to €10 billion and with projects worth close to €1 billion annually in recent years.
The Bank has long championed Western Balkans integration and hosted a meeting of all six national leaders at an Investment Forum in London in February 2014, paving the way for a series of annual Western Balkans summits under what became known as the “Berlin Process”.
The Trieste Summit is the fourth formal Western Balkans Summit after an initial session in Berlin in August 2014 and subsequent meetings in Vienna and Paris.
In the context of greater Western Balkans regional economic integration, the EBRD is committed to supporting the Western Balkans regional Chambers Investment Forum (CIF), which brings together the Chambers of Commerce from across the region.
The EBRD’s support will allow the CIF to establish a Permanent Secretariat based in Trieste, which will promote the Western Balkans as a common investment destination.
An initial focus of the CIF Secretariat will be the creation of a Regional Investment Platform, which the EBRD is seeking to launch formally at the next EBRD Western Balkans Investment Forum in London in February 2018.
The Investment Platform will provide a one-stop window for foreign investors in the Western Balkans and facilitate dialogue between the private sector and governments in identifying and overcoming obstacles to doing business in the region.