SARAJEVO, March 19 (Reuters) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development plans to invest at least 1.1 billion euros ($1.25 billion) in infrastructure, energy and the private sector in the Western Balkans this year, a top EBRD official said on Wednesday.
The bank, which was set up in 1991 to invest in ex-communist economies of eastern Europe and is now operating in 38 countries, is the largest multilateral donor in Albania, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.
“We invested 1.1 billion euros in 2018 in the six Western Balkan countries and the plan for this year is to invest at least the same amount, if not more,” EBRD Secretary General Enzo Quattrociocche told Reuters in an interview.
The bank will hold its annual meeting and business forum in Sarajevo on May 8-9, at which leaders from the six countries will discuss their economies and how to connect them.
“Having a meeting in Sarajevo puts the spotlight on Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region in general,” Quattrociocche said. “On the one hand, it’s a political initiative, and on the other hand, this will hopefully bear fruit in terms of cross-border projects, which is really what is needed.” Quattrociocche said the EBRD has been helping in the privatisation of companies across the region and financing of small and medium-sized enterprises.
“The SMEs sector is important, it is a backbone of the economy,” he said, adding the bank was providing companiess with access to financing, extending loans through local banks.
The EBRD is also focused on energy projects, especially on green energy after the bank approved in December a new energy strategy with a total ban on coal projects.
“On the energy strategy, we will focus on renewables and energy efficiency,” Quattrociocche said. The countries of the region rely on coal for up to 70 percent on their electricity production, with exception of Albania, he said.
As for infrastructure projects, the EBRD has so far lent Bosnia alone about 550 million euros for the construction of the Corridor VC connecting Budapest with the Croatian port of Ploce. The total cost of the corridor is set at 3 billion euros.
“By our own standards, it’s a very big project,” Quattrociocche said, adding that the EBRD has invested 900 million euros in it so far.
After investing 200 million euros in projects in Bosnia last year, the bank will invest another 300 million euros this year, half of which will go for infrastructure projects, he said. ($1 = 0.8808 euros) (Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic, editing by Larry King)