The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, announces a loan of EUR 120 million for construction of a 98 km toll motorway extending the Tunis-M'saken route southwards from M'saken to Sfax.

The project forms part of the North-South road axis and represents a priority component of the Tunisian Government's Motorway Programme.  By improving links between the country's two main economic centres, Tunis and Sfax, the works will foster the advancement of southern Tunisia and hence more balanced economic development of the country as a whole.

The EIB funds are being made available to Société Tunisie-Autoroutes (STA), established in 1992 to build, maintain and operate the country's motorway network; STA falls under the aegis of the Directorate-General for Highways of the Ministry of Equipment.

The scheme supplements the road projects already financed by the EIB between 1994 and 2001 to the tune of EUR 181 million in all; these earlier works focused on upgrading and extending priority roads in Greater Tunis and some ten other large Tunisian towns as well as construction of the Tunis-Bizerte motorway. 

Since 1978, the EIB has lent more than EUR 1.5 billion in Tunisia, mainly for infrastructure, the environment and industrial development, either by way of direct financing or through global loans channelled to Tunisia's banking sector in support of SME investment. 

Created in 1958 by the Treaty of Rome, the EIB finances capital projects furthering the European Union's objectives.  It also contributes to implementation of the EU's cooperation policies with non-Member Countries. In the Mediterranean region, the EIB operates within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, which complements the various Member States' bilateral cooperation policies. Under the second financing mandate corresponding to this Partnership and spanning the period 2000-2007, the EIB will lend EUR 6.425 billion for financing projects in the 12 Mediterranean Countries which have signed cooperation or association agreements with the EU. The EIB focuses particularly on supporting these countries' efforts to open up their economies and help businesses to prepare for market liberalisation ahead of the progressive creation of a free trade area with the EU. 

In the wake of the Barcelona European Council (15 and 16 March 2002), the EIB will step up its cooperation with the Mediterranean Partner Countries by setting up an enhanced Euro-Mediterranean investment facility underpinned by operational offices in the region. This facility, to be launched in autumn 2002, will be endowed with increased financial resources, enabling the EIB gradually to scale up its annual lending activity in the region from EUR 1.5 billion to EUR 2 billion.

Qualitatively, the facility will place emphasis on social-sector projects, particularly health, education and environmental protection, in the belief that this will make for social stability and encourage productive investment.

The new facility will likewise accord priority to financing private-sector projects with the dual aim of liberalising the Mediterranean Partner Countries' economies and expanding their potential in the run-up to the EU-MPC Customs Union in 2010. In this connection, the EIB's objective is to bolster the proportion of financing it devotes to private-sector projects to 33%.