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EBRD President promises Western Balkans “more Europe”

By Olga Rosca

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EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose country is currently holding the rotating EU Presidency.

President Chakrabarti speaks at EU/Western Balkans Summit in Sofia

EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti has reaffirmed the Bank’s support for the European integration of the Western Balkans: “[Our] approach to the Western Balkans is simple: it is to deliver ‘even more Europe’”, he said today in a speech at the EU/Western Balkans Summit in Sofia.

With investments of more than €10.6 billion in the region, the EBRD is a key business partner for the six countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. “We have invested more per capita in the region than anywhere else”, President Chakrabarti said. In many projects the EBRD partners with the EU as well as in policy reform and the improvement of the investment climate.

In context of this close cooperation the EBRD President warmly welcomed the European Commission’s recent budget proposal for the next multiannual financial framework: “The new approach of opening up the EU financial architecture to European financial institutions such as the EBRD could be a real game changer - inside and outside the EU”, he said.

The EBRD is currently investing around €1 billion every year in the Western Balkans. One of the Bank’s priorities is infrastructure development to foster economic growth in the region and connect the countries closer with each other and with Europe.

“The connectivity agenda we pursue, under the Commission’s leadership, has allowed many important regional transport and energy projects to take off”, President Chakrabarti said,

Only last week a loan agreement was signed with the Albanian authorities for the rehabilitation of the railway line between Tirana and Durres and the construction of a new railway link from the Tirana-Durres line to Tirana International Airport, a joint undertaking of the EBRD and the EU.

But connectivity goes beyond hard infrastructure. It also means creating the legal and regulatory conditions to connect the region with Europe.

It also includes investments in, for instance, new broadband networks which integrate rural areas, the rollout of digital technology for SMEs and working towards the inclusion of young people into the labour market: “Retaining young talent is one of the key policy challenges facing the region”, the President warned.

The Western Balkans Summit in Sofia was chaired by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose country is currently holding the rotating EU Presidency. It follows the third EBRD Western Balkans Investment Summit hosted by President Chakrabarti in London in February.

During his visit to Bulgaria the EBRD President also met with local government and business representatives. He signed loan agreements with ProCredit Bank and Biomashinostroene, a Bulgarian producer of food-industry equipment which has successfully expanded into international markets.

Both investments will further support the development of Bulgaria’s private sector, bridging the gap in access to finance for companies with promising potential.

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