During a press conference held by the European Investment Bank (EIB) today in Rome, at the Italian Treasury, EIB President Sir Brian Unwin stressed in particular the significant growth in EIB lending in the Mezzogiorno. In the course of 1997, the European Union's long-term financing institution had financed projects in Italy as a whole with loans totalling some ITL 8 400 billion, of which ITL 3 330 billion had gone specifically to the Mezzogiorno. Sir Brian highlighted the fact that : "the many opportunities now offered through new forms of EIB financing facilities in the wake of the remits entrusted to the Bank by the Amsterdam Summit and subsequently endorsed by the Luxembourg Special Summit on Employment will make for even more extensive co-operation with the entire banking system, with the aim of fostering growth and employment as part of the process of European integration in preparation for monetary union".

On the occasion of their official visit to the Italian authorities, both the President, Sir Brian Unwin, and Vice-President Massimo Ponzellini spelled out the results of EIB lending and borrowing activity in Italy over the financial year 1997. Prime Minister Romano Prodi, the Governor of the Bank of Italy, Antonio Fazio, and Treasury Minister and Governor of the EIB, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, were briefed in a series of talks about aggregate EIB financing in Italy during 1997, which had recorded a 6% year-on-year increase.

As regards the sectoral breakdown of lending, in the Mezzogiorno infrastructural schemes had included the Rome-Naples section of Italy's high-speed rail system, work on which was proceeding apace, as well as a number of road improvement projects promoted by ANAS, while telecommunications schemes financed had encompassed capital investment by Telecom and Omnitel to upgrade the fixed and mobile telephony networks also partly in Southern Italy. In industry, finance went to projects mounted in Basilicata, Campania, Apulia and Sicily.

Taking a broader perspective on EIB activity throughout Italy, particularly noteworthy was a second loan advanced for Milan's Malpensa Airport, bringing the total for this priority trans-European network project to ITL 400 billion. Projects in the field of transport logistics also attracted financing, especially the intermodal freight terminals at Padua and Bologna.

Significant among energy projects funded were three co-generating plants and gas supply grids.

Mention should also be made of the Bank's support for small and medium-sized enterprises, including those in the retail sector, through global loans worth close on ITL 2 000 billion, advanced to banks and local financial institutions, which have been deployed mainly in Central and Northern Italy, where lending for SMEs in industry has always been particularly buoyant.

The global loan is a financing facility employed by the EIB to provide medium and long-term credit to an intermediary institution for onlending in lesser amounts for a number of small and medium-scale ventures.

Attention was also focused on the Amsterdam Special Action Programme (ASAP), including the new tasks, handed down to the Bank as a result of the Special Summit on Employment held in Luxembourg on 21 November, paving the way for loans carrying new terms and conditions for infrastructural schemes and opening up new areas for Bank financing, specifically health and education, for which an initial global loan concluded with CREDIOP is enabling the latter two sectors to have access to EIB funds. Innovative, high-technology SMEs are also attracting support under the same programme. The Bank selected Istituto Mobiliare Italiano as the intermediary institution to pioneer the very first such operation. The ground-breaking global loan in question allows, via a risk-sharing formula, for equity participations to be acquired in such SMEs. This operation represents the first step in the development of new financial products which the EIB will be making available to smaller businesses in industry throughout Europe.

On the borrowing side, the Lira accounted for 22% of aggregate funds raised by the EIB, once again confirming this currency's front-ranking status.

The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 30 September 1997, when ECU 1 = ITL 1 921.48, GBP 0.69, IEP 0.76, USD 1.113.