EBRD plans $4 billion fund to bolster emerging Europe


The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development will lend 3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in the next two years in the southeastern European countries hardest hit by the euro zone crisis, the bank's president said on Saturday.

In a Reuters interview on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund's meetings in Tokyo, Suma Chakrabarti said he wants to convince other institutions to contribute to the plan, and will raise the issue during talks on Sunday.

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The World Bank has expressed interest in the plan, which involves boosting jobs through large infrastructure projects, and may contribute up to 5 billion euros, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

On top of that, every euro invested by the EBRD typically attracts on average 2.6 euros of private investment, according to the bank's estimates. That would bring the estimated initial amount to around $20 billion.

The bank has predicted the economies of Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary will contract this year. It said that southeastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania were particularly vulnerable to the euro zone crisis due to their exposure to Greece and other euro zone periphery states.

The bank aims to have the package ready by end-2012.

"We keep hearing about Greece, Italy and Spain, but hardly anyone talks about other countries in direct neighborhood of Greece that are also suffering from the spillover effects," said Chakrabarti.

Banks in many countries in eastern Europe outside the euro are wholly or largely owned by western European parents, which are reducing lending as they try to fix balance sheets damaged by the sovereign debt crisis.

The Balkan economies are also highly reliant on investment from Greece and Italy as well as other euro zone nations.

The development bank cut its 2012 growth forecast for emerging Europe and North Africa to 2.7 percent and added that a further deterioration of the euro area debt crisis was the biggest risk.

"Most of the efforts so far have been focused on cutting deficits, but we also recognize the need for structural reforms in the countries of the region, so that when the growth returns there, the countries can benefit from it," said Chakrabarti.

The bank plans to focus on shoring up the banking and corporate sectors in these countries and boosting jobs through large infrastructure projects, such as building railways and roads, he said.

The bank, set up in 1991 to manage the transition of former communist countries to market economies, already spearheads the Vienna 2.0 initiative set up to prevent a disorderly deleveraging from the region by cash-strapped western European banks and the new plan is aimed at broadening the initiative.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Neil Fullick)