The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's long-term financing institution, is lending EUR 20 million to Ciments Artificiels Tunisiens (CAT), for the modernisation and expansion of its existing cement plant at Ben Arous, in the Greater Tunis area. 

Following its privatisation CAT has been acquired by the Italian company Colacem (part of Gruppo Financo) in the year 2000. The project associates the excellent brand reputation of CAT and its knowledge of the market with the technical know-how and financial input of a major European producer.

The investment will improve the efficiency of the plant by reducing operating costs and increasing production, while environmental standards will be ameliorated. Upon completion in 2004, the plant's yearly production capacity will be 800 000 tons of grey cement.

The EIB is developing in the Mediterranean region its lending activity directly to the private sector. This loan is the first operation in 2002 with a private promoter signed in this context ; it also regards the first loan in favour of a privatised company in the Southern Mediterranean area, which is directly granted to an Italian company and with support of Italian financial institutions. The operation demonstrates the strong support given by the Bank not only to the private sector but also to the privatisation policy of the Tunisian Government.

Since 1978, the EIB has lent more than EUR 1.3 billion for investment in Tunisia, with an emphasis on infrastructures, environmental projects and the support of industrial development through direct loans as well as global loans to the Tunisian banking sector for SME investment. 

The EIB established in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome, finances capital investment projects, which further European Union policy objectives. It also helps implement the EU's co-operation policies towards third countries. In the Mediterranean region the EIB operates under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, which complements the EU Member States' own bilateral co-operation policies. Under the second financing mandate of the Euro-Med Partnership covering the period 2000-2006, the EIB is to provide EUR 6 425 million for projects in the 12 Mediterranean countries, which have signed co-operation or association agreements with the EU. The EIB is giving a particular focus to supporting efforts to develop a more open economy and to assist companies in preparing for market liberalisation, with a view to the progressive establishment of a free-trade area with the EU. 

Further to the Barcelona European Council (15-16 March 2002), the EIB is set to increase cooperation with the Mediterranean Partner Countries by establishing a "reinforced Euro-Mediterranean investment facility" complemented by EIB representation in the region. Operational by Autumn 2002, this Facility foresees increased financial resources, leading the EIB to expand its annual lending in the region from EUR 1.5 billion to EUR 2 billion.