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The EU’s ‘unwavering solidarity’ to help the Western Balkans overcome unforeseen challenges

The Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Lilyana Pavlova, recently spoke at the EU-Western Balkans Smart Cities Economic Forum, which took place between 16-18 November in Prague.

Vice-President Pavlova said that nearly 9.5 billion euros have been invested into the Western Balkans across a range of sectors, with the aim of supporting infrastructure and private sector development. On that point, the Vice-President highlighted that the EIB is one of the largest international lenders in the Western Balkans region.

“The European Union has demonstrated its unwavering solidarity to help overcome unforeseen challenges, in Europe and beyond, during the past years”, she underlined.

Earlier this year, the EIB signed a new Guarantee Agreement with the European Commission to support up to 26.7 billion euros of EIB financial operations worldwide in key sectors such as clean energy – with more than two-thirds of this guarantee cover planned for investments in the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries.

As part of EIB’s global ambitions, this year also saw the launch of EIB Global, a branch dedicated to operations outside the EU. According to the Vice-President, this institutional development “includes a shift in our operating model, notably with a reinforcement of our local presence.”

Western Balkans set to benefit from the global EIB

“For the Western Balkans, this means more resources for financing and grants, experts on the ground fully dedicated to local projects and more partnerships together with the European Commission”, said Vice-President Pavlova. “This has already helped increase our support for the key education, transport and environment protection projects in the region. For example, we have allocated two technical assistance grants to Kosovo in 2022 for the expansion of the district heating system in Priština and improving capacities of public universities.”

The Vice-President also mentioned ensuring Just Transition in the region’s green transition.

“This will be done through financing, policy engagement, technical advice and knowledge sharing,” she said. “Such is the case, for example, with the rehabilitation of urban transport project in Sarajevo that is going to improve the impact on the environment, the quality of public transport and everyday life for people in Sarajevo.”

It was also said that the public sector and SMEs will require “strategic support” to increase their energy efficiency and green practices, which are still “not sufficiently adopted” among companies in the region. Without naming the sources, Ms Pavlova said that analyses show that as much as 60 per cent of total energy savings could be achieved in the less energy-intensive sectors.

Speaking about partnerships and innovative financing, the EIB Vice-President highlighted the EU for the Green Agenda in Serbia initiative, a flagship initiative implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the financial support of the European Union and in partnership with Serbia’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, EIB Global, the Swedish embassy and the government of Switzerland.

“Around 83 innovative environmentally friendly plans aiming to accelerate the green transformation, climate action and job creation have been selected to receive technical and financial implementation support,” the Vice-President recalled. “The proposed ideas provide new or improved business models and technologies that will lead to more efficient use of resources and the reduction and reuse of waste. Their aim is to address specific climate challenges, such as increasing the share of renewable energy sources, improving air quality and restoring forest ecosystems and green urban areas.”

Concluding the speech, Vice President Pavlova assured that the EIB Group, in conjunction with the European Commission and other local partners, can play a “decisive role” in supporting the Western Balkans in developing smart cities and implementing your projects.

The Forum was organised by the Czech Presidency of the EU Council, focusing on sustainable and smart urban development and green and digital transitions.

Earlier this month, the EU announced an energy support package of 1 billion euros in grants to aid the Western Balkans in tackling the consequences of the energy crisis and build resilience in the short and medium term.

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