ECONOMY

EIB’s new Med priorities

The European Investment Bank will focus this year’s 2-billion-euro lending plan for the Mediterranean on boosting the local private sector and luring foreign firms to the region, the bank’s vice president said yesterday. The EIB financed 2 billion euros’ worth of projects in the region last year, with much of the funds devoted to public infrastructure investments. «In 2004 and beyond we want to keep funding at this level, but with the difference we want the majority of our loans to become progressively devoted to the private sector,» EIB Vice President Philippe de Fontaine Vive told Reuters in an interview. De Fontaine Vive said the shift would mean both more EIB funding of private sector investments and efforts to encourage European businesses to invest in the region on their own or in partnership with the bank. «It is very important to open the eyes of the European business community to this area,» he said, speaking on the sidelines of the first meeting of EU and Mediterranean MPs, held in Athens. The EIB was ready to help by taking equity stakes in some investments, he added. «This is something quite new considering that traditional EIB lending has focused on long-term loans.» The energy sector was particularly promising, benefiting from high oil prices and a strengthening focus on European markets, he said. From 2005 onward the Luxembourg-based bank, which lends more than 40 billion euros annually for projects within and outside of the EU, wants local banks to play a bigger role in lending, particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises. (Reuters)