Under its role of furthering integration between the Central and Eastern European countries and the European Union, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing ECU 25 million (1) for building a total of 18 km of trunk roads linking the Slovak capital Bratislava with new border crossings to Austria and Hungary. The new road links will form part of the TEN motorway network Nuremberg-Prague-Bratislava-Budapest and its connections to Vienna.

During his visit to Bratislava, where he also signed a framework agreement governing relations between the EIB and the Slovak Republic up to the year 2000, EIB Vice-President Wolfgang Roth commented on the new loan for the road project by saying: 'The necessity to improve road connections at Slovakia's primary direct crossing point with the EU and more generally, the revival of the historically important economic and social area Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest are a high priority for us. The new road links should be able to meet the problem of frequent congestion caused by rising traffic levels and the capacity limitations on existing roads following the opening of the borders in 1989. Our support for this project also highlights the EIB's important role for financing trans-European transport networks (TENs) linking EU countries with Central and Eastern European countries'.

Since 1993, the EIB has lent a total of ECU 378 million in the Slovak Republic. In addition to the new road links, the Bank mainly financed the upgrading of the telecommunications, gas pipe-line and road networks, a gas storage facility, the refurbishment of a coal-fired power station and of the modernisation of the Slovak air traffic control system. The EIB also assisted the development of small and medium-scale manufacturing and tourism ventures through its global loans (credit lines) to selected banks in the country.

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, the Slovak Republic 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 1997-99 earmarks another ECU 3.52 for loans in the region. In addition to this specific mandate, the EIB, at the request of the EU's Council of Ministers, will also create a substantial pre-accession lending facility to support preparations 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, 38.0088 SKK, 211.280 HUF, 13.8631 ATS.