BRUSSELS Jan 20 The European Investment Bank announced plans on Monday to loan 150 million euros to small and medium-sized companies in Serbia, funds aimed at helping the Balkan state improve infrastructure as it integrates more closely with the European Union.
The loan is the first installment of up to 500 million euros that the EIB, the EU's long-term financing arm, has set aside for lending to companies involved in energy, health, industry, tourism, trade and services.
The investment bank has invested more than 4 billion euros in Serbia since 2001 as the country has steadily emerged from the wars that followed Yugoslavia's collapse in the 1990s and put itself on the path towards EU membership.
The EU agreed in June that Belgrade could start negotiations on joining the 28-member bloc from the start of this year, rewarding the country for improving relations with its former province of Kosovo.
Since the removal of former President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, Serbia's economy has undergone a rapid transformation, with per capita income rising nearly six-fold.
As well as investment from the EIB, Austria, Germany, Greece and Norway have all poured money into the country, helping it register steady growth in recent years.
While owned by the EU's member states, the EIB loans money beyond EU borders, including in Asia and Latin America. It has been active in the Western Balkans since 1977. (Writing by James Francis; editing by Luke Baker)