• An EIB delegation led by Director General Luca Lazzaroli participated in the Economy Ministers Meeting under the Berlin Process in Vienna, as part of the 2018 Western Balkans Summit, the fifth annual summit for the European integration of the Western Balkans
  • The Economy Ministers Meeting was co-hosted by the United Kingdom (UK) and Austria and focused on digital connectivity, economic stability, security, and access to finance
  • The EIB signed a EUR 100m loan with the Investment and Development Fund (IDF), alongside European Commission/DG NEAR representatives and Montenegro’s Economy Minister Dragica Sekulic, to support SMEs in Montenegro, under the EIB’s Economic and Resilience Initiative

The European Investment Bank (EIB) Group has strengthened its commitment to support the region’s path towards the European Union. The EIB Group is the leading international financier in the Western Balkans and has been operating in the region since 1977.

An EIB Group delegation, led by EIB Director General Luca Lazzaroli, participated today in the Economy Ministers Meeting under the Berlin Process in Vienna, as part of the 2018 Western Balkans Summit. The Economy Ministers Meeting was co-hosted by the UK and Austria. The meeting coincided with the start of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU, which will have as a priority a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans.

The Economy Ministers Meeting focused particularly on supporting digital connectivity, economic stability, and security. Furthermore, the meeting placed a strong emphasis on supporting access to finance for small enterprises and start-ups.

 “From building roads and railways, to investing in digitalisation, connectivity provides the networks that enable physical and human connections both with the EU and within the region; therefore it is key for growth and competitiveness in the Western Balkans,” said Director General Luca Lazzaroli in his speech. He added that the EIB Group not only supported big infrastructure projects, but also small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Since 2007, the EIB Group has signed over EUR 8bn of loans for projects in the Western Balkans. So far this year, the EIB has signed more than EUR 700m in loans for the region. In 2017, the EIB Group financed approximately 800 SMEs generating over 45 000 jobs in the region.

SMEs are important drivers of economic growth and innovation in the Western Balkans and contribute more than 65% of value added in the region. Yet, these small businesses need more support for longer-term financing where impediments are often related to high collateral requirements. There is also a need for better funding options for micro-enterprises and start-ups. The EIB Group delivers SME finance through lending, guarantees, venture capital, private equity and other financial instruments,” explained Director General Luca Lazzaroli.

Moreover, Director General Luca Lazzaroli outlined the Economic Resilience Initiative (ERI), the instrument launched by the EIB in 2016 following a request from the European Council. ERI is aimed at addressing social and economic infrastructure gaps and stimulating private sector-led growth and job creation to tackle the root causes of migration.

ERI will increase the EIB Group’s financing in the Southern Neighbourhood and the Western Balkans from the EUR 7.5bn already envisaged to EUR 13.5bn over a five-year period. This will catalyse an estimated total of EUR 15bn of additional investment to support both regions.

Director General Luca Lazzaroli highlighted how ERI is specifically improving access to finance for small enterprises and start-ups in the region, working with lower-rated intermediary banks and increasing EIB lending beyond previous limits. Furthermore, under ERI, the EIB will expand its current activity to impact finance projects in the region. All of these initiatives will be supported by the provision of EUR 90m of technical assistance, made available under ERI.

In the context of the Western Balkans Summit, Director General Luca Lazzaroli and Chairman of the Investment and Development Fund’s (IDF) Board of Directors Zoran Vukčević, alongside European Commission/DG NEAR representatives and Montenegro’s Economy Minister Dragica Sekulic, signed the first EUR 100m tranche of a EUR 150m loan to support SMEs in Montenegro, which make the largest contribution to the Montenegrin economy in terms of both value added and employment.

“This loan is of particular importance for the development of SMEs, as well as the overall economic development of Montenegro. It is the fourth financial framework between IDF MNE and the EIB. In the future, IDF will continue its successful cooperation with the EIB and I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of Montenegro and the EIB for their support which has been continuous since 2012,” said Zoran Vukčević.

The project contributes to the objectives of ERI. It will foster private sector development by providing SMEs with access to financing on more favourable terms and conditions. The increased liquidity provided for SME lending will target small-scale investments in the fields of environmental protection, energy efficiency, the knowledge economy, infrastructure, industry, services and tourism and will lead to improved access to funding for local banks and SMEs.

Milica Kulić (in Belgrade), m.kulic@eib.org / mobile: +381658991110