The European Investment Bank (EIB), the Union's long-term financing institution, provides its first ever loan for the health sector in the Western Balkans. The EUR 50 million financing is for the emergency rehabilitation needs of some 20 hospitals in Serbia.

The agreements have been signed today in Belgrade by Mr. B. Djelic, Serbian Minister of Finance and Economy, and Mr G. Genuardi, EIB Vice-president responsible for the Western Balkans, on the occasion of his first official visit to the country. During the signing ceremony Mr. G. Genuardi, stressed that the loan for the health sector in Serbia demonstrates clearly EIB's commitment for a proactive role in the future development of the Serbia and the whole Balkan region. EIB's activity being part of a coordinated EU and international regional strategy builds upon synergies with other donors for rapid and visible results. This first EIB operation in the health sector is a tangible example of this cooperation. EIB and the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR), join forces for a better quality of life for the peoples of the region.

EIB financing is for procuring medical equipment and upgrading/renovating basic infrastructure, including the fitting of necessary technical installations in 20 hospitals throughout Serbia, including the state-owned Institute of Immunology and Virology in Belgrade, Torlak, producing also vaccines for export. The health institutions have been selected with a view to maximising access to hospital services.

The detailed investment programmes for the individual institutions will be provided by a study financed by the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR), which is also participating in the financing of the project together with the EIB.

In 2002, the European Investment Bank, the European Union's long-term financing institution, stepped up its lending in the Western Balkans to a total of EUR 425 million (an increase by 30% of the EUR 320 million lending in 2001).

Having mainly supported the transportation sector since starting operations in the Western Balkans in 1999 within the framework of the Stability Pact, and having diversified its lending in the region in 2001 to provide increased support for the private sector, the EIB made in 2002 its first large private sector operation in the region in support of Foreign Direct Investment in the region. This was a EUR 25 million loan for the Lukavac Cement Factory, promoted by an Austrian company.

EIB will in the coming years remain an important source of finance for the Western Balkans Countries, in cooperation with the European Commission, the European Agency for Reconstruction, and other international donors, including the World Bank and EBRD. Plans for 2003/04 foresee EIB maintaining the annual lending level of some EUR 400 million.

As mentioned in EIB Medium Term Strategy for Western Balkans published recently three new sectors will also increasingly receive the EIB support in the coming years: Private sector (including foreign direct investment), health and human capital resources, including innovation and R&D, as well as environment (EIB is finalising significant rehabilitation investments in infrastructure related to streets, communications and water utilities in the individual cities and municipalities in all the countries of the region).