SOFIA, March 9 (Reuters) - Europe’s largest development bank plans to extend about 700 million euros ($861.98 million) of financing this year for projects to improve infrastructure and boost transport links between Western Balkans countries.
The European Investment Bank(EIB), owned by the European Union’s member states, uses their capital deposits as security to fund loans for research, infrastructure and environmental projects in Europe and around the world.
“We plan to extend around 700 million euros for infrastructure, energy and transport projects in the Western Balkans in 2018,” EIB Vice-President Vazil Hudak told Reuters after the bank presented its 2017 activities in Bulgaria.
The EIB said it provided nearly 300 million euros of new loans, guarantees and equity investment in the Black Sea state last year.
Hudak said that the EIB will keep its focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, continue strong cooperation with public authorities and will also support the tourism and digitalisation of the Western Balkans, a region still dogged by a reputation for lawlessness.
The EIB is the most active international financial institution in the Western Balkans region, with loan approvals reaching 8 billion euros over the past 10 years.
“The EIB has been very active in the region and we believe it is important to suport these countries sustaining economic recovery,” Hudak said, adding that the bank is also ready to address long-term challenges such as climate change.
Bulgaria, which took over its maiden six-month rotating EU presidency in January, has said it would push for more projects to help to bring Western Balkan nations closer to the bloc.
The region is still recovering from the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
In January EIB’s President Werner Hoyer vowed that the bank would cooperate for the success of Bulgaria’s presidency and its priorities during a meeting with the Balkan country’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
Sofia will host an EU-Western Balkans summit in May, to be attended by the leaders of the six Western Balkan states — Serbia, Montengero, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. ($1 = 0.8121 euros) (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by David Goodman)