In its mission to support the economic transformation in the Central and Eastern European countries the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Union's long-term financing institution, is providing ECU 60 million (1) for upgrading Sofia airport.

The loan will mainly help finance a new passenger terminal building to cope with increasing traffic at Sofia airport. It will also be used for extending the main runway to reduce noise levels by redirecting flights over the capital. Extending the runway will furthermore allow larger aircraft to use the airport.

Commenting on the loan, EIB Vice President Wolfgang Roth said 'The geographic location of Bulgaria at some distance from the major EU countries makes airport infrastructure financing a high priority, in particular in view of the country's growing exchanges with the European Union. Not surprisingly therefore, this is our second loan to improve Bulgarian air transport. It follows an earlier EIB loan to modernise the Bulgarian air traffic control system.'

The loan for Sofia airport brings total EIB lending in Bulgaria since 1992 to ECU 346 million. Previous EIB loans went to finance a coal-fired power station, the modernisation of the telecommunications network, the upgrading of the air traffic control system, and improvements to the road network. The EIB is also assisting the development of small and medium-scale manufacturing and tourism ventures through its global loans (credit lines) to the Bulgarian banking sector.

The EIB was established in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome and is the European Union's long-term financing institution. In 1996, the Bank provided loans totalling ECU 23.2 billion. Nearly 5 per cent of this was for projects in eleven Central and Eastern European countries: Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Between 1990 and the end of 1996, the EIB lent nearly ECU 5 billion to projects in these countries. A new mandate for the years 1997-2000 earmarks another ECU 3.52 billion for loans in the region. In addition, the EIB will also create, at the request of the Council of Ministers, a substantial pre-accession lending facility to help Central and Eastern European countries prepare for EU-membership.

(1) The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 30/6/1997, when ECU 1 = 0.68 GBP, 6.64 FRF, 1.13 USD, 0.75 IEP, 1 806.80 BGL.