The European Commission is set to launch a new initiative 6 May aimed at increasing investments in its southern and eastern partner countries, the main focus of which will be on infrastructure projects in the energy, transport and environment sectors, according to EurActive.

The new Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), equipped with a ?700 million budget until 2013, is to become a key instrument of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which the EU set up in 2004 to improve its ties with countries in North Africa, the Middle East and former Soviet republics.

The NIF will focus on countries that have ENP Action Plans with the EU, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Moldova, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and the Ukraine, according to External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

One major objective of the NIF will be to address environmental challenges by funding renewable energy and de-pollution projects in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, according to the Commission.

Furthermore, Ferrero-Waldner plans to direct parts of the NIF budget to SMEs and different social sector projects, hoping that the new facility will generate up to 6 billion euros of lending.

Thus far, Germany (?10m), Italy and Sweden (?1m) have both made concrete funding proposals to the INF for this year but the Commission hopes other member states will follow soon.