Prime Ministers, Commissioner, representatives of the business community, ladies and gentlemen…
It is really a great pleasure for me to open the fifth Western Balkans Investment Summit, my first as EBRD President.
Our focus today is, of course, the Western Balkans.
But, as we gather here in London, I just want to say a few words about what is happening in another EBRD region and what is on our minds.
The EBRD stands by Ukraine.
We made our position clear early on Thursday morning.
We condemned the invasion….
And we stressed our strong commitment to Ukraine’s development as a modern, democratic nation….
And our unwavering support for the Ukrainian authorities.
Since Thursday we have been further shocked and dismayed by developments.
We condemn the invasion of Ukraine and express the deepest of sympathy with those who are grieving the loss of loved ones or are just caught up in this terrible tragedy.
At times like this, unity is essential.
And we stand by the international community in its support for the country.
Let us now focus on the issue of today, which is the Western Balkans, where the EBRD plays a key role through our financing, our policy engagement and, last but not least, by hosting this series of summits.
The first, in this same auditorium - with all regional Prime Ministers present – was eight years ago.
It has since become a bi-annual event to discuss regional integration and promote the Western Balkans as an attractive investment destination.
Now more than ever regional integration and cooperation are needed to maintain the region’s stability.
We all know the challenges the Western Balkans’ region faces.
One is the difficult legacy of the past.
Today we have to deal with the impact of the pandemic and geopolitical uncertainty.
And there is much to be done to improve the region’s business environment.
But the participation of the six leaders in this event sends a very powerful message to the rest of the world about the importance they attach to regional cooperation and their place in Europe.
Let us all listen very carefully to what the Prime Ministers have to say. I have every confidence that convergence will be a major theme.
Regional cooperation is vital for the economic prospects and political stability of the Western Balkans.
The EBRD has been a very strong champion of such cooperation.
And we are committed to continuing to do so as part of Team Europe.
The EU, EIB and other IFIs will find the EBRD a very reliable partner in implementing the Economic and Investment Plan for this region.
Let me add that the EU is our key partner here…
Not least because it is the key external anchor for the reforms the region needs - and which are at the heart of the EBRD’s unique mandate.
So we are honoured to have the chance today to hear from the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, our long-standing partner.
Beyond our role as a champion of regional cooperation, we are committed to supporting the economies of the Western Balkans.
We have invested more than €15 billion in the region in total so far.
And we continue investing more than €1 billion there every year – more than any other MDB.
We work with both public and private sectors. But we pay particular attention to the latter, especially through support for SMEs.
Alongside our partner, the EIB, we will continue to support cross-border infrastructure projects which enhance commerce, competitiveness and opportunities for export growth.
Let me share with you my vision of our priorities in the Western Balkans for the years to come.
First, policy reform and good governance. Together with supporting the private sector, this is at the core of our mandate.
Re-energising growth and unlocking more investment in the region depend on accelerating structural reforms, improving the business environment and – as we are addressing investors today – boosting their confidence which also comes with rule of law.
We have therefore always combined our investment with hands-on policy engagement.
That engagement is tailored to individual countries. But some policy initiatives will only succeed if pursued across the region as a whole.
For example, the regional portal of business registries – BIFIDEX – launched at previous Western Balkans Summit is now live and contains data on more than 1.5 million companies and as many natural persons registered in the region.
This is a major service to future investors in the Western Balkans.
The second priority is making progress on three themes that will be of utmost priority for the future of the region.
The first is the green transition.
Climate change is the biggest global challenge we face.
It is my firm conviction that we have to do everything we can to help our countries and our clients become greener.
We promised to our Shareholders that by 2025 the majority of EBRD’s projects would be in the Green Economy Transition field.
Last year, we committed €5.4 billion to green investments, more than 50 per cent of our annual business volume.
Decarbonisation is critical for the Western Balkans.
Every government there should have as its number one priority a plan to exit coal, affordably and without compromising energy security.
Thanks to our reach across the whole economy, and working with private investors, we will also help to deliver renewable energy and a Just Transition that will be key to success.
We are working across the region to support countries in implementing renewable energy auctions.
The first auctions have already delivered the cheapest solar power ever seen in the region, and we are expanding our support to cover more countries and greater capacity.
Our landmark Green Cities programme strives to build a better and more sustainable future for our urban spaces.
I am very happy to report that around a fifth of the cities which have joined it are in the Western Balkans.
The Bank’s other two main priorities in all our regions, and a particular focus in the Western Balkans, are Digital and Equal Opportunities.
On digital, we aim for the EBRD to be the partner of choice for our clients in government and the private sector in building the foundations of a digital economy.
To do that we will engage in policy dialogue, capacity building and the roll-out of broadband infrastructure; and invest in the digitalisation of the private sector, including SMEs.
Growth should benefit everyone, with no groups left behind.
Our “Women in Business” programme has disbursed more than 4,000 sub-loans to women-led SMEs operating across the region.
We are now applying the success of our Women in Business programme to youth in the region.
This year we will be launching a Youth in Business programme, aimed at promoting youth entrepreneurship and enhancing their role in local economies.
The region’s great potential for investment is there for all to see.
It enjoys a stable macroeconomic climate, a favourable tax regime, a competitive labour force, and the prospect of integration into the European Union, itself a key stabilising factor.
Its people are well educated, young, highly skilled and among them are many talented entrepreneurs.
I believe that the Western Balkans are well placed to advance structural reforms…
And to take advantage of global trends to ensure that the region is more competitive globally and that its growth is more sustainable.
The Prime Ministers and I will have much to discuss in our bilateral meetings later.
And I am greatly looking forward to visiting each of their countries in the near future.
Ladies and gentlemen, for many years now the EBRD has led the way on investment in the Western Balkans.
We will continue to create the climate and conditions whereby we and others can commit still more.
This summit is another opportunity for us, together, to showcase the region’s many strengths……
And to invite investors the world over to join us in realising its potential.
Thank you very much.