With an additional €3bn in annual financing capacity in its coffers, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is looking to expand into new countries of operation in the coming years.
But while president Suma Chakrabarti initially pitched ambitious expansion into new countries in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa – where the bank does not currently work – in April, after meeting with the bank’s shareholders in May those plans appear more circumspect.
“That work is going to take time… and it will have to involve other multilateral development banks,” Mr Chakrabarti told reporters at the bank’s May annual meetings in Dead Sea, Jordan. “Frankly decisions on whether to expand further geographically would not be taken before 2020 at the earliest.”
The additional lending will raise the private sector-focused development bank’s financing capacity by a third to more than €12bn per year. This is welcome news at a time when development financiers are seeking to leverage private capital in order to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
EBRD management under Mr Chakrabarti’s leadership is advocating for a phased approach to expanding the bank’s geographic remit.
Under this plan, the bank will first look to lend more within its 37 current countries of operation, before studying prospects for expanding further in the region encircling the Mediterranean. Algeria, Libya and Syria were mentioned as potential future destinations, with the caveat that the security situation would need to stabilise first in the latter two.
Mr Chakrabati had championed moving into sub-Saharan Africa – which falls outside the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (Semed) region that the EBRD had initially slated for expansion beginning in 2012 – in interviews with Reuters and the Financial Times.
After consulting with the bank’s governors, however, the “consensus was very much that the bank should first consider any discussion on expansion within the existing Semed region,” said Jordan’s minister of planning and international co-operation, Imad Fakhoury.
The EBRD has already expanded its footprint rapidly. It began investing in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia in 2012. First investments in Lebanon and the West Bank and Gaza closed this year, bringing the EBRD’s portfolio in the Middle East and North Africa to nearly €7bn.
New investment into Russia has been frozen since 2014 due to its incursions in eastern Ukraine, but Turkey and Egypt – both under increasingly authoritarian governments – are now the bank’s two largest countries of operations. According to the EBRD, 97% of its lending in Turkey went to the private sector.
This represents a shift from the bank’s roots in post-Soviet Europe, where its mandate was to help finance the transition to democracy and market economies.
Observers anticipate resistance to further geographic expansion will come from some core European country shareholders, who believe the bank should focus more on lending into its original remit in eastern Europe.