By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) invested 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in the Western Balkans in 2020 and will match that amount this year, Pierre Heilbronn, an EBRD vice president, said on Wednesday.
Heilbronn told Reuters 2020 was an unusual year because of the COVID-19 pandemic which prompted the bank to invest in its earlier agreed projects as well as to support policy changes in the six Western Balkan countries that it helps.
Over nearly three decades, the bank has supported Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – which are all hoping to join the European Union – to adjust their economies to meet EU standards.
Though investment in infrastructure remains a priority, the bank has become increasingly involved in helping the region, which is dependent on coal-produced energy, to transition towards green energy, Heilbronn said.
But he warned public money would not be enough and that private investors should also be mobilised.
“One of objectives of my visit here is very much trying to push this (green) agenda,” Heilbronn, in Sarajevo on a farewell visit, said in an interview.
He said small-and-medium-sized companies (SMS) were a key engine of regional growth but privatisation of state-owned enterprises has lagged, and that Bosnia was “probably the most extreme case”.
“Connectivity, green and competitiveness are the three overarching priorities for us,” Heilbronn said. “Making progress in how state-owned enterprises are run would open up interest of foreign investors” who have been largely absent from the region.
As for Chinese investment in the region, mainly in infrastructure and energy, Heilbronn said the EBRD was concerned when investment did not meet sustainability criteria, and did not create jobs locally.
($1 = 0.8462 euros)
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Bernadette Baum)