As part of its effort to support growth and employment in Europe, the European Investment Bank (EIB) the European Union's long-term financing institution, is making available ECU 70 million (GRD 23.7 billion)(1) to the Hellenic Republic in the form of a framework loan for financing public investments in the health sector.

This is the first EIB loan to be granted in Greece to finance projects in this sector, and is for small and medium-sized investments implemented by the public sector and included in the Operational Programme for Health and Social Welfare which forms part of the second Community Support Framework (CSF II) for Greece covering the period 1994-1999. The Programme aims at overall effectiveness and a more balanced provision of health care services provided in the two metropolitan centres-Athens and Thessaloniki, and the rest of the country. The schemes to be financed by the EIB will be selected so as to improve health and primary healthcare facilities in the regions, remote area accident and emergency services, chronic care, health service personnel training and health management development.

EIB operations in the health sector are a relatively recent innovation, introduced under the Amsterdam Special Action Programme (ASAP), initiated by the EIB at the request of the Amsterdam European Council of June 1997. The programme covers the financing of investment in the education and health sectors, innovative and growth-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), together with the extension of lending for urban renewal and other environmental projects and major infrastructure networks. In particular, an SME window has been set up to provide venture capital for high technology and growth-oriented companies.

The European Investment Bank was set up by the Treaty of Rome in 1958 to provide long-term loans for capital investment furthering European Integration. Owned by the EU Member States, the Bank raises most of its resources on capital markets. In 1997 the Bank made loans totalling ECU 26.2 billion of which ECU 730 million (GRD 246.8 billion) in Greece. Todate in 1998 the EIB has lent in Greece a total of ECU 409 million (GRD 138.2 billion) for mobile telephony, the new Athens International Airport, energy and SME private sector investments.

Since the accession of Greece, the EIB has advanced more than ECU 6.3 billion (GRD 2 130 billion) to support investments in all sectors.Close coordination between the EIB and other European Union sources of financing is the rule and the EIB has regularly integrated its lending in Greece with ongoing support programmes. In particular, the EIB has participated in the Union's Integrated Mediterranean Programmes (IMPs) (1986-1992) and in the Community Support Framework (CSF) for Greece, drawn up in close cooperation between the European Commission, the Greek authorities and the EIB. It sets out priorities for structural adjustment and economic development. The CSF has been set up within the context of the reform and the expansion of the Community's Structural Funds which came into force in January 1989. Many public sector projects the EIB has supported in Greece in recent years have fallen within the IMPs and the CSF, making it possible to bring together grant aid from the structural funds, drawn from EC budgetary resources, and EIB loan finance. In the context of both programmes the EIB has made framework loans available, i.e. loans which are channelled through the Ministry of National Economy to a whole range of small and medium-sized investment schemes. For such investment projects the framework loans have proved to be the most appropriate and effective financing mechanism. In recent years, six such loans have been provided by the EIB, also in support of the Integrated Mediterranean Programmes and under the present Community Support Framework.

(1) The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 30 September 1998, when ECU 1 = GBP 0.69, IEP 0.79, FRF 6.58 and USD 1.17159 = GRD 338.1.