EIB and the EU remain committed to the Western Balkans

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 27, 2020 13:29

EIB and the EU remain committed to the Western Balkans

Inerview with Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, Dario Scannapieco

Firstly, I would like to thank you, Dario Scannapieco, for the opportunity to have your interview in Tirana Times. EU leaders announced a €3.3 billion financial package at the Zagreb Summit on 6 May, €1.7 billion of which will be funded by the European Investment Bank. How much will Albania be able to benefit from these funds? 

Thank you. The pleasure is all mine, especially in light of the pleasant news that Albania has begun a new chapter on its way to full membership of the European Union. As part of the European Union family, the European Investment Bank looks forward to continuing to support Albania on its path towards EU membership, so that this will happen as soon as possible and the country can become an even better place to live and do business. Going forward, the activities of the EIB Group will be aligned with this goal.

So far, we have invested close to €535 million in Albania across all the key sectors of the economy. The EIB is one of the major investors in Albania and we look forward to preserving and expanding this role.

We also need to make sure that Albania recovers from COVID-19 as soon as possible. To this end, the EIB Group has been working with the Team Europe initiative since the crisis began. In terms of broader support, as you mentioned, the European Commission has announced a dedicated €3.3 billion package for the Western Balkans, more than half of which will come from the EIB. 

In this regard, I am proud that the EIB and the European Union have proven that they remain committed to the Western Balkans and Albania in both good and bad times.

The operations in the dedicated envelope will be distributed across the Western Balkans region based on the quality of projects, but most importantly will be targeted at supporting the recovery and helping Albania become more resilient to similar crises. 

For weeks – since the start of pandemic – we have been coordinating with our partners in over 100 countries around the world to distribute funds as efficiently as possible to the sectors that need them most, adjusting the disbursement criteria to the given circumstances so that every country, including Albania, has equal and timely access to available funds.

On top of the immediate financial support, the EIB also stands ready to provide advisory support to our partners in Albania and make sure they develop good, bankable projects. Our goal is to support both public and private investments and we look forward to reaching these engagements in Albania. 

The EIB stated that more flexible terms and extended eligibility will be applied for the new financing; can you provide further insight into these aspects?

The EIB wants to distribute the funds as quickly as possible and in sectors where they are most urgently needed. The procedures for these loans could be significantly eased under our support measures. These include faster procedures and broadened criteria, especially for projects in the health sector, civil protection and support for small businesses.

We are also enabling accelerated disbursement to make sure the funds reach counterparts faster. Additional facilities will complement the investments in health and civil protection as part of the national strategy for responding to pandemics and emergencies.

To what extent does the EIB foresee that the package will help Albania? Which sectors will be eligible or priority to be assisted? 

Our focus will be on the most affected parts of the Albanian public and private sectors – the healthcare system and companies, particularly SMEs, as they represent the main source of employment for Albanians. The EIB funds for SMEs can be used primarily for the sectors most affected by the crisis, such as tourism and the transport industry, as well as companies engaged in construction, trade, health and social activities, manufacturing, and entertainment.

Our intention is to maintain liquidity and jobs, and that is why we have introduced flexibility and facilities in order to speed up the distribution and availability of these funds as much as possible.

Preserving existing jobs, creating new ones and employing young people are among our priorities in the region, and we believe that we will contribute to this in the future as well.

We plan to offer both our financial and technical expertise to the healthcare system, as we want to make sure it recovers and increase its resilience to any future crisis.

Besides the immediate needs related to COVID-19, in Albania we are also currently looking at projects in railroad rehabilitation, flood prevention, and municipal infrastructure. In addition, we will continue to encourage the development of innovation, competitiveness, the transition to sustainable business, as well as the further digitalisation of society and the economy. This will represent a long-term investment in the competitiveness of Albanian economy.

How will long-term investments impact the reaffirmed European perspective of Albania and the rest of the WB countries, taking into consideration that Albania and North Macedonia were given the green light for EU accession talks?

Our strategic investments in Albania, particularly those related to connectivity, are accelerating the integration of Albania into the EU. EIB investments in transport infrastructure, such as road and railroad rehabilitation and construction, municipal infrastructure, education, energy and digital infrastructure are making a sizeable contribution to the quality of life of everyone in Albania.

The impact is similar across the Western Balkans. We have renovated hundreds of kilometres of roads on key regional routes – particularly Corridors X and Vc – with plans to do more in Albania and Kosovo. We have renewed railway connections and thus contributed to road safety and efficient travel. 

Transport infrastructure remains one of our priorities in Albania. Our goal is to support better and more efficient connections between the countries of the Western Balkans, and then connect the region with the EU countries. This would help Albania and the region integrate faster into the single market. So far, we have invested over €250 million in the rehabilitation of transport infrastructure in Albania, in projects like the Durrës – Vlore highway and the port of Durrës.

Our list of priorities in Albania also includes digitalisation and investment in the green transition.

As the world's largest climate bank, the EIB will support the Western Balkan transition towards a sustainable economy by promoting energy efficiency, the circular economy and renewable energy sources as well as the use of non-fossil fuels.

The EIB has made a significant amount of investments and its latest has to do with the regional development in the northern part of Albania. Within this context, what are some of the future projects between the EIB and Albania? Which local areas in Albania do you believe need the most investment?

One of the projects we have been working on with a local promoter is located in the municipalities in the Albanian Alps in Shkodër as well as a portion of Lezha county, to promote economic development through tourism and infrastructure upgrading. 

We are also appraising investments for the rehabilitation of the railway network on Corridor VIII, crossing Albania from Durrës to the border with North Macedonia, suffering from decades of underinvestment, as well as the upgrade of the water supply infrastructure in Tirana, which lacks a continuous potable water supply to its residents.

Finally, I want to address past projects between Albania and the EIB. How much have the communities benefited and what are the lessons learned for the future? 

Since 2000, the EIB has invested €474 million in Albania, mostly in transport infrastructure, which has helped increase traffic safety and travel efficiency. 

Our urban investment in the rehabilitation of the Lana River is expected to improve living conditions for 65 000 people in Tirana and the surrounding suburbs, and reduce water pollution. After the devastating earthquakes that hit Albania in late 2019, we pledged EIB loans for up to €100 million, supported by €2.5 million in grants, for reconstruction and recovery.

I would also like to mention a very important project we have been working on in Albania under the Western Balkans Investment Framework– regional broadband infrastructure development. 

This project will help deploy an effective broadband policy and properly plan public interventions in the telecommunications sector in Albania, which has so far had the lowest level of broadband penetration in the region, especially in rural areas. It would also support the country's alignment with EU digital agenda and connectivity targets. 

We have seen the impact and importance of digitalisation during this pandemic and further digitalisation of the economy will continue to be one of our priorities. It is estimated that an increase of about 8% in broadband penetration in Albania will have a positive effect on economic growth of 1.2%.



Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 27, 2020 13:29