BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders called on Friday for closer economic cooperation with North Africa including more lending to the region via two European Union-backed banks.
EU officials hope that more lending to the region could accelerate political transition in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia where popular revolts have toppled decades-long rulers.
Leaders of the 27-nation bloc said in a statement they wanted to see rapid progress on raising the ceiling for European Investment Bank lending for Mediterranean countries undertaking political reform.
They also said that the shareholders of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should consider the possible extension of the bank’s activities to countries on Europe’s southern flank.
“Work should be rapidly taken forward to develop a new partnership with the region ... This partnership will be founded on deeper economic integration and closer political cooperation, and will follow a differentiated and performance-based approach,” the leaders said.
Egypt, which is a founding shareholder of the EBRD, last year formally requested that it become a country where the EBRD invests. That request has been subsequently renewed by the Egyptian authorities.
EBRD President Thomas Mirow has said that if EBRD shareholders were to give the go ahead, the EBRD could envisage investment in Egypt rising to about 1 billion euros a year without detracting from investments already planned for the existing EBRD region and without having to ask shareholders for any more capital.
“We will have a first discussion with our board next Tuesday on the basis of a technical assessment we have prepared for Egypt. We’ll move it on from there,” EBRD spokesman Anthony Williams said.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Mike Dolan in London, editing by Alison Williams