The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, is lending PTE 95 000 million (ECU 475 million) for roads, railways and water infrastructure development in Portugal. This brings total EIB financing for capital investment in Portugal so far this year to PTE 260 000 million (ECU 1.3 billion), and makes the country the highest per capital recipient of EIB loans in the European Union.

EIB President, Sir Brian Unwin, at the contract signing ceremony said: "The EIB has made a significant contribution to the economic development of Portugal, having advanced a total of PTE 2 200 000 million (ECU 11 billion) for vital investment in the country since it joined the European Union and became a Member of the Bank in 1986. Since joining Portugal has made an extraordinary development effort and created one of the most dynamic economies in the Union. As a measure of success, the country has increased its per capita GDP from about 53% of the EU average in 1986 to almost 70% last year."

"I am very proud of the EIB's role in helping to modernise infrastructure and industry, to improve living conditions and to allow Portugal to take advantage of a wider market. The country now has a strong economic base and is ready for Monetary Union. I much admire the good economic management and the determination which has enabled Portugal to reach this position. I have no doubt that stage III of the Economic and Monetary Union will start on time in January 1999 and that Portugal will be a founder member. The EIB will continue to give strong support to Portugal, not least in the developing area of public-private finance of infrastructure investment in the years to come."

In all six loan contracts were signed in Lisbon today. Three loans totalling PTE 57 000 million (ECU 285 million) went to the Instituto de Gestão do Crédito Público for the Junta Autónoma de Estradas to improve traffic speed and safety in the national primary and secondary road network of Portugal. One PTE 12 500 million (ECU 62 million) loan went to BRISA Auto-Estradas de Portugal for the completion of the A3 motorway connecting northern Portugal with the Spanish network in Galicia, in particular the 60 km section from Braga to the border at Valença. Since the beginning of its activity in Portugal the Bank has contributed to more than 200 main road schemes extending on more than 3500 km.

The fifth loan totalling PTE 20 000 million (ECU 100 million) went to Rede Ferroviária Nacional for improving the public transport in the Lisbon area. The funds will contribute to the rail link across the Tagus river facilitating the commuter service between Lisbon and the South bank suburbs. This includes strengthening the "Ponte 25 de Abril" bridge, the construction of the railway line under the bridge's road bed, the construction of a new line in the South Bank and the expansion of the inner city line from two to four tracks.

The sixth loan of PTE 5 500 million (ECU 28 million) to the Caixa Geral de Depósitos will complement grants provided by the European Regional Development Fund for water supply, sewage and road small and medium scale infrastructure undertaken by municipalities throughout Portugal.

Earlier, speaking at Lisbon University Law Faculty, Sir Brian said: "Europe is on the verge of taking some of the most far reaching and radical steps in its history: the introduction of the new single currency and the enlargement to include the former command economies of Central and Eastern Europe. On both developments the EIB is playing a determinant role and will contribute to the successful management of the transition processes."

"We have responded quickly to the Amsterdam Summit call to step up activities to help create employment by financing investment opportunities in Europe. We drew up the "Amsterdam Special Action Programme (ASAP) on which I shall be reporting to the special Employment Summit in Luxembourg next week. This programme will run up to the end of year 2000 and consists of three complementary elements that will be very important for Portugal: the special window for SMEs to widen their access to venture capital, the extension of our financing into the areas of education, health and urban environment and third, to give new impetus to financing TransEuropean Networks and other large infrastructure. I am very happy to anticipate here that these are not just plans, action has already begun. We are already co-operating with the Portuguese authorities and financial institutions to take forward projects in these areas."

The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 30 September 1997, when ECU 1 = GBP 0.69, IEP 0.76, USD 1.113, PTE 200.251.