EIB says could move fast on loans to Tunisia, Egypt
VIENNA Feb 24 (Reuters) - The European Investment Bank (EIB) could quickly step up loans to Northern African countries such as Tunisia and Egypt if governments give the green light, a top official at the European Union's financing arm said.
"Expanding our mandate in countries where we already operate such as Tunisia and Egypt is a decision that could be made quickly -- if you want you could do this in a few weeks, not months -- and then we could do more there," EIB vice-president Matthias Kollatz-Ahnen told reporters in Vienna.
Lending to countries like Libya that are not already EIB partners requires a treaty that would take some time to prepare, he told a news conference on Thursday.
EIB President Philippe Maystadt had said on Tuesday that the EIB could lend up to 6 billion euros ($8.25 billion) to southern Mediterranean countries and the Middle East over the next two years if needed. [ID:nLDE71L1RE]
Possible beneficiaries include Algeria, Egypt, Gaza/West Bank, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia. If the European Parliament and member states were to agree on a new lending mandate, Libya could in theory be eligible too, he said.
Kollatz-Ahnen said the best way to support countries that wanted to introduce democratic reforms would be to start small.
"If you want to help quickly then small and mid-sized companies play a crucial role. These societies have relatively a lot of well educated people and relatively few jobs," he said.
"This is the core of what we have proposed that European governments give us a mandate. Now we have to see if they give this to us."
Infrastructure, such as sewage plants along the Mediterranean coast, that can protect the environment and boost tourism as well as renewable energy projects would also get priority.
He acknowledged the EIB had faced some criticism in the past for lending to countries in the region without adequately ensuring that goals for the loans were met but defended the bank.
"Whoever works in countries that don't have governments that can be seen automatically as democratic doesn't operate in a situation where everything is white, but rather in a grey zone. We have tried to enter the brightest possible areas in the grey zones." (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Susan Fenton)
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