The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's long-term lending institution, is making available up to GRD 115 billion (ECU 370 million) for the construction of a cable stayed bridge, connecting Peloponesus at Rion (near Patras), with north-western Greece, at Antirion, across the Gulf of Corinth.

The Master Facility Agreement was signed today in Athens in the presence of Mr Y. Papantoniou, Minister of National Economy and Mr. K. Laliotis, Minister of Environment, Town Planning and Public Works. For the EIB signed Mr P. Gennimatas, Vice-President, and for the concessionaire GEFYRA S.A. (GEFYRA) Mr J. P. Teyssandier, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director. Financing under this facility is expected to be signed in tranches over the construction period (1997-2004).

The Hellenic Authorities as well as the EIB regard the bridge over the Rion-Antirion straits as of exceptional importance for the development of the north-west Greece and its integration with the country's main economic areas. The bridge will connect Peloponesus at Rion (near Patras), with north-western Greece, at Antirion, and is part of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki (PATHE) main road axis supported jointly by the Community Support Framework II (CSF II) and the EIB. The PATHE axis is a key project included in the priority list of Trans-European Network projects (TENs) approved by the Essen European Council.

EIB Vice-President P. Gennimatas said: "The bridge and the PATHE are together amongst the largest and most needed transport projects ever undertaken in Greece. Efficient transport networks are particularly important for countries such as Greece, whose peripheral location is a challenge for European integration. The Bank's support for this Trans-European Network project is fully in line with the objectives fixed recently at the Amsterdam European Council to stimulate economic activity through large infrastructure financing. Our action underlines the key role the EIB is playing in the Union's growth initiative, helping to co-finance major infrastructure projects with the public and private sectors ".

GEFYRA, is a joint-venture between Greek and French renomated companies, formed specifically for designing, constructing, financing, maintaining and operating the bridge for a period of 42 years. GEFYRA's share capital is held 55% by the French GTM-ENTREPOSE S.A., the building branch of Lyonnaise des Eaux, one of the 10 largest companies of its kind in the world. The balance of its capital is held by the following Greek construction companies: Zeus S.A. (8%), ELLINIKI TECHNODOMIKI S.A. (8%), TEB S.A. (8%), ATHINA S.A. (8%), PRODEFTIKI S.A. (8%), and C.I. SARANTOPOULOS S.A. (5%). GEFYRA Joint Venture, created by GEFYRA's shareholders is responsible for the construction of the project in fixed price, fixed time terms. The EIB's loan finance will be guaranteed by a syndicate of international commercial banks led by Bank of America and Bank of Tokyo-Mitshubishi.

Works include the construction of a cable stayed bridge with five spans, four piers in the sea, two access viaducts on either side, and a toll plaza with a 600 metres road section on the Antirion side. The bridge will have two lanes in each direction. Additionally the Greek State, will build the connection to the existing road network on the two sides ( 2 km of dual carriage way road).

The bridge will significantly improve crossing times, comfort and quality of service for passenger and freight traffic crossing the Gulf of Corinth, avoiding also the occasional disruption caused by temporary closures of the existing ferry services due to adverse weather conditions. It is expected to serve some 4 million vehicles per year in 2005, its first year of full operation. The location of the bridge has been chosen to minimise its environmental impact, and to complement visually the local historical castles.

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 1996 the Bank made loans totalling ECU 21.5 billion of which 700 million ECUs (GRD 217.4 billion) in Greece. EIB remains the largest single financier of TENs, having lent some ECU 33 billion for this purpose since 1993 for capital investment representing over ECU 120 billion. Examples of EIB TENs financing covers a whole variety of projects ranging from TGV systems in Northern Europe and Italy, to the Øresund link between Denmark and Sweden, and gas pipelines in Greece and between North Africa and Spain and Italy.Since the accession of Greece, the EIB has advanced ECU 1 913.5 million (GRD 594 billion) to support the improvement of the Greek transport network. The Bank has financed road and rail links along all the main transport axes of the country, such as the motorways PATHE, EGNATIA and Corinth-Tripoli, the railway line Athens-Idomeni, Athens Metro, the New Athens International Airport " Eleftherios Venizelos" and the Athens peripheral motorway. EIB finance has also gone towards improvement of interregional and regional road links, as well as the modernisation of ten regional airports and nine ports.