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EBRD Invested over EUR 3.4 Bn in 230 Projects in Bulgaria
Larisa Manastirli, Director for Bulgaria of the EBRD
AUTHOR: Lyudmila Zlateva

Ms Manastirli, you have been Director for Bulgaria of the EBRD since December 2015. What are the priorities, in terms of sectors and projects, of the EBRD in Bulgaria for 2016 and beyond?

The EBRD defines its priorities for each country in country strategies which are approved every four years but go through annual revision to account for any significant events or developments. The latest country strategy for Bulgaria was approved by the EBRD Board of Directors in July 2015 and articulates the following three strategic priorities for the Bank: (i) enhancing competitiveness through improved efficiency, governance and innovation; (ii) strengthening the financial sector intermediation through targeted investments and improved governance; and (iii) narrowing the infrastructure gap through commercialisation, reform and efficiency. In terms of sectors these priorities provide a lot of flexibility for the EBRD, but traditionally we are looking at agribusiness, manufacturing and service, IT and telecommunications, tourism and property, energy, financial sector, infrastructure. By today the Bank invested over EUR 3.4 billion in 230 projects in Bulgaria and in just first eight months of 2016 we committed EUR 450 million.

The REECL programme has been popular in Bulgaria, helping numerous businesses and residents in improving building energy efficiency. What is new in this stage of the programme?

With this latest stage of REECL and new money mobilised we are extending the availability period within which the borrowers would be able to access the credit resources under the programme for three more years. We are also adding new features such as expanding the type of eligible investments and projects and categories of eligible borrowers.

New types of eligible projects include energy-efficient elevators and energy efficiency measures in newly-constructed buildings which only target the highest-class energy performance certificates and therefore provide the building residents with the highest savings and best comfort. The programme continues to be focused on comprehensive whole-building solutions while in the individual dwelling segment this time the programme will focus on family houses – we see a lot of potential for energy efficiency improvements in this part of the country's housing stock.

For the first time private companies providing services in the residential sector could apply for funding and advice under REECL – these are for instance property management companies, heating or gas distribution companies, energy service companies (the so-called ESCOs), construction companies.

Apart from the consumer loans which the end-borrowers received in the earlier stages of REECL, the latest addition allows the banks to also offer mortgage loans or investment loans in case of corporate borrowers.

What kind of technologies would be financed through the new edition of REECL? And what kind of applicants would benefit most from this programme?

A wide range of best-performing energy efficient materials and equipment will be eligible for financing under the new phase of REECL. Details are available on the programme's website, as well as in the offices of the participating banks.

REECL financing will be on-lent by the participating banks to individuals, associations of apartment owners and privately-owned service-provider companies.

The EBRD has recently backed the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) bond issue. How do you estimate the reform efforts in the Bulgarian energy sector?

The fact that we have invested into the bonds acting as an anchor investor is a testimony of our support to the reforms initiated in the sector. It is very important to continue delivering on the liberalisation and reform agenda to ensure long-term stability and predictability of the sector. We remain ready to support the government in pursuing this course of actions. For example we are working on a technical assistance project for the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission to strengthen its capacity in performing key functions in view of power market liberalisation.

Your organisation has a strong background in supporting infrastructure investments. What are the possibilities for equity financing by EBRD in Bulgaria for the coming years?

EBRD is interested to look into equity investment opportunities in Bulgaria and sees a clear niche in this segment. Moreover the Bank acknowledges the widening equity gap in many of our countries of operation and recently has strengthened the team and internal processes to ensure focus and best value creation.

There are few ways we could do equity investments. First is through the private equity funds (regional or country based) where we invest alongside other investors and take an active part in overseeing investment decisions. We could co-invest with the private equity funds. And we could invest directly although in this case we are usually looking for larger size of investment. However the companies seeking equity partners like EBRD should be prepared for full disclosure and adoption of the acceptable corporate governance standards. We want to feel comfortable with the shareholders and partners we invest with and are willing to engage early to catalyse the positive changes.

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