The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, has directed additional funds for investments in the industrial and services sectors promoted by small and medium-sized enterprises, through the signature of a new global loan of ITL 70 billion (EUR 36 million) to Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze SpA.

Funds from the global loan will also be available for small and medium-sized infrastructure investments, as well as ventures leading to a more rational use of energy, environmental protection and the reduction of pollution. The loan will also include support for investments in health and education, two priorities, job-intensive sectors which the EIB started to finance in the framework of ASAP (Amsterdam Special Action Programme), at the request of the Amsterdam European Council of June 1997.

CRF, which ranks among the 25-30 largest Italian banks in terms of total assets, is the leading institute of a banking group that also includes Cassa di Risparmio di Pistoia, di Civitavecchia and Orvieto. Through its subsidiaries, CRF supplies a full range of commercial banking services in the leasing, factoring, consumer credit and fund management sectors.

A global loan is a financing instrument under which the EIB makes funds available on a long-term basis to a financial intermediary for onlending in lesser amounts to small and medium-scale enterprises. The Bank has established an extensive network of about 130 active intermediaries for global loans to SMEs, covering the entire Union, of which over 30 in Italy directly and 43 indirectly, via other financial institutions.In 1998 the European Investment Bank's (EIB) lending to Italy has increased by 30% over 1997 to ITL 8800 billion (EUR 4500 million).A third of total lending went to industry. Loans for individual industry projects amounted to ITL 1,200 billion and global loans, primarily in favour of SMEs, topped ITL 1,670 billion.

1 EUR=1 936.27 ITL, 0.705455 GBP.