The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank and the prospects for growth and green investment in Eastern Europe

As part of his presence at the Thessaloniki Balkan Forum, Mr. Aristotelis Spiliotis, Secretary General of the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB), gave an interview in the Balkans, where he referred to the Bank’s green plan and actions, as well as the situation in the countries of the Balkans and the Black Sea region, concerning the field of investment in new technologies.

The BSTDB follows a Green Deal program in its investments, to which you also referred during your speech. What are the steps that the Bank will follow in the coming years, in order to implement this green investment program even more actively and how do you think this green transition will be achieved? Also, what is your opinion on the situation in the Balkans, in terms of green investment?

We, as the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, are already working in this direction. Always in the projects that are funded and I would like to emphasize that this applies to all cases, we check they are in green direction, what emissions they do, as well as in what situation the business will go after our funding, that is, if it will be greener, if it will be smarter, if it will help the development of the country and if it will be innovative. All of the above are always part of the evaluation we do.

Especially in the part that has to do with the green element, we attach great importance and it is crucial in making our decision on whether to finance a project or not. I have already mentioned some examples in my speech, we have funded many projects and the green element is always of major importance. Of course, this applies to Greece as well as to the other countries of the Bank, we do not exclude any of our 11 countries, we love our 11 children the same and we treat them in the same way.

Now, for the future, what we have said is that we will just make this shift even more intensive, we have decided that at some point, probably by 2030, we want 30% of our portfolio to be in green projects, and we have the ambitious goal, in 2050, our portfolio to be zero emissions, i.e. not to produce more damage to the environment and the planet. So, this is our long-term goal.

Also, for each country, we have a separate basis in our policy, thus trying to adapt to national needs. In other words, we have the general strategy of the Bank for the whole region and for each country, in cooperation with the national authorities, we try to specify the direction we will follow. This is the way we work and it is part of our daily lives. Of course, it is also part of the way we evaluate and finance any project we take part in, in any country, whether it is in the private or public sector.

As far as the countries of the region are concerned, at the moment, do you recognize better investment prospects in some countries in the Balkan region, for example in the Western Balkans? What is your image?

As an Organization, we are limited to investing and financing only the countries that are our shareholders, that are part of our Bank, something that does not apply to the countries of the Western Balkans. We are in some discussions, which have not yet been completed, with Northern Macedonia and Serbia, which are members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, which is the political-economic organization of these countries, in the possibility of joining the BSTDB. So if they join as shareholders, we will be able to finance there as well. But as for the other countries, we cannot finance projects, because they are not our shareholders.

Now, in relation to how we choose the funding each time, we move according to the needs, first of all, of the countries, and secondly based on our judgment, about where we should give our special attention. Because things often change, from time to time, some countries may need more, in others the situation may be somewhat better, so we do not operate on the basis of a rigid, horizontal policy, but adapt according to the needs and opportunities.

This is because each case involves a risk for us as well, we must remind you that we are a financial institution but we are development maximizers, we are not profit maximizers. At the same time, we always make sure to be positive in our balance sheet, because we must not destroy the capital of our shareholders and we must be able to increase it, in order to be able to reinvest in new projects. Whatever profit we have as a Bank, we reinvest it and finance the economies and businesses of the countries.

In general, in the Balkans and in the areas where the BSTDB operates, how would you consider at the moment the use of new technologies, smart technologies and innovation?

The truth is that most countries in our region are relatively behind in terms of automation, e-business and other related sectors. Of course, in recent years, there have been leaps in many of the countries I am referring to in this area. An example is Greece itself. Our country has made leaps in the last few years and I think that the adverse conditions we went through, such as capital controls, the crisis, the pandemic, the problems that were created in general, pushed many sectors to improve, the processes to be digitized and to work now much more automatically and electronically than in the past.

In fact, this is a general trend in all these countries; it is not just the Greek phenomenon. But the case of Greece is a good example because it shows that ultimately, conditions pressure and problems are pushing in this direction, which I think is irreversible.

From the Balkans we could also mention the case of Romania, for example, which is perhaps technologically more advanced in the fields of STEM.

There are various countries, which have developed relevant activities in specific sectors and have highly developed technologies, not only now but also historically. Romania, Bulgaria and Russia are some of them. There are many examples that can be mentioned, but in the general use and in this introduction to the society, as far as the electronic component is concerned, there is on average a relative lag.

 But I think, as I said before, that this is largely being overcome, this gap is closing and secondly, in certain areas, countries have made progress. There have been leaps because some of them were helped by their history, but also because the policies that were followed and the effort made by these countries brought results. I believe that in some of these cases, we, as the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, have also contributed, being there and financing projects and initiatives.

Mr. Aristotelis Spiliotis holds the position of General Secretary of the Black Sea Bank, since March 2019. He holds a PhD in Finance and Banking from the University of York, UK and a degree in Economics from the University of Piraeus.

The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank is an international financial institution based in Thessaloniki. It consists of 11 shareholder countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. It has been operating since 1999 and since then has approved investment funds over € 3.45 billion, which have been allocated to development projects in the region. The BSTDB supports and promotes with its work, economic development and cooperation in the Black Sea region for over 20 years.

The above action, project, or interview took place in the context of the Balkans in-site informal youth group of which Theodora Vounidi and Annia Korneeva were co-founders. This has been granted with common consent to the Balkan Youth Cooperation since it has been carried out by its founders and volunteers.

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