“There’s a very heterogeneous environment, particularly in the Western Balkans, which highlights that there’s a big convergence challenge ahead of us”, said Mr Dietmar Dumlich, Head of Central and Eastern Europe Department of the European Investment Bank during the event Investment Opportunities in the Balkans and Black Sea Area which was held on 14 July in Brussels.

The aim of the event, which was jointly organised by EurActiv Greece and the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, was to present the state of play of both public and private investments in the Balkans and Black Sea area, explore the functioning of financial tools and present the role of development banks active in the area.

In his opening remarks, the Director of EurActiv Greece, Mr Nikos Lampropoulos, noted that the wider area and particularly the “Black Sea is facing many tensions that need to be addressed and therefore a strategic plan is urgently needed”.

Ms Eleni Marianou, Secretary General of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, indicated that the moment to hold this discussion is crucial, as “less and less public money is available in the EU budget particularly post-2020”, while commenting on the potential combination of structural funds and financial instruments in the next programming period. “We need to take the possibility to combine both whilst keeping the added value of each instrument. Thus, a good way forward is to combine grants and loans rather than go into parallel roads”.

Mr Dietmar Dumlich said that despite improvement in the investment climate, investments have not returned to pre-crisis levels. “We need to continue working to remove obstacles and provide financing that remains practical and operational to respond to what people are expecting from us”, he added.“In the past years, we have lent 82 billion Euros for the development of the private sector, in particular SMEs and foreign direct investments in social and economic infrastructure”, said Mr Dumlich, presenting the activities of the EIB in the wider area while stressing the importance of cross-border and regional projects such as inter-connectors and roads.

Mr Gwilym Jones, Head of the Brussels office of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, stressed the necessity of having the right environment for investments to take off. “It’s a region with good opportunities and the attraction of EU membership is an important tool for reform”, he explained. Mr Jones said that a key priority for the EBRD is the transition to a green economy dedicating 40% of their investment activities to such projects. He also commented on blending stressing its significance as “working with grant money and private investments allows EU money to go further”.

Mr Alim Hasanov, Economic Officer at the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, also characterised the high diversity in the Black Sea Region as the key challenge, stating that “growth of economies in recent years was principally driven by growth in western economies, mainly Romania and Bulgaria”. Mr Hasanov stressed the urgent need for more foreign and private investments in the area and continuation of reforms so that regional cooperation can increase.

The initial presentations were followed by a dialogue with participants, during which the speakers had the chance to further elaborate on their current and future activities in the area.