After the fall of the Berlin wall the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was created to help countries from the former Soviet bloc transit to market economies. MEPs have now approved plans for the bank to extend its activities to Southern and Eastern Mediterranean in the wake of last year's Arab spring. We spoke to Bulgarian MEP Slavi Binev, responsible for steering the plans through Parliament, about how the EBRD can make a difference.
How do the former Soviet bloc and the Mediterranean compare?
There are many similarities. Just as with Mediterranean countries today, Eastern European countries emerged in the 1990s from authoritarian regimes and strove to build open market economies.
There are important differences as well: Mediterranean countries differ not only from Eastern European countries but also among themselves in terms of culture, political development and respect for civil liberties. So the EBRD should adopt a country-specific approach and pursue policies to remove bad practices and build on the positive things that are already there.
In Bulgaria we failed to do that entirely: business there still cannot function without government protection. This is exactly what the EBRD will try to change in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries.
How will the continuing political risks in the region affect the EBRD's work?
Of course there are risks. That is why the EBRD assesses each country's legislation, level of corruption and the risk of political change and instability. It is active on the ground, cooperating with international organisations as well as with local activists and organisations.
The task of the EBRD is to support democratic transition and open market economies so that offshoots of totalitarian regimes don't get any European financing.
The report encourages EBRD to contribute to building socially inclusive and energy-efficient economies: is this a new development?
The report favours the expansion of operations to the Mediterranean. Some of my colleagues say that it is not the right time to intervene because of the crisis. However, in my opinion if you wish to have the right to criticise what is going on in a country or a region, you also have the obligation to get involved.
Right now the most important thing for these countries is to take the right path of development. It would be unnatural if they were constrained in the use of their natural resources. Still, my colleagues in the economic affairs committee feel that the opening of the economies of the Mediterranean should not lead to the entry of petroleum industry giants there.