The European Investment Bank (EIB), the financing institution of the European Union, has advanced a loan for ECU 360 million (ITL 700 billion)(1) to Treno Alta Velocità (TAV) SpA for construction of the Rome-Naples and Florence-Bologna sections of Italy's high-speed railway line. This project constitutes the first phase of a capital expenditure programme to upgrade the Turin- Milan- Bologna- Florence- Rome- Naples corridor. This long-term programme to improve Italy's rail infrastructure is included in the list of priority trans-European networks (TENs) identified by the Essen European Council in December 1993.

The establishment of effective trans-European transport, telecommunications and energy networks has constantly ranked among the EU's top priorities. By facilitating the free movement of persons, goods, energy supplies and information, these networks make a key contribution to the process of European integration.

In the words of EIB Vice-President Massimo Ponzellini: "Since 1993, the EIB has made available more than ECU 30 billion for construction of a whole range of transport networks. In the past two years, the EIB has advanced loans totalling ECU 3 billion in the Union's rail transport sector alone, thereby participating in the development of high-speed rail links in France, Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom. The TAV project is therefore rightly included in the EU's programme for promoting high-speed train networks".

The EIB was created in 1958 to finance capital projects fulfilling the Union's policy objectives, especially in the fields of regional development, trans-European transport networks, telecommunications, the environment, industry and energy. It raises its funds on the capital markets, where its issues are rated "AAA". Following the Amsterdam European Council, the EIB has stepped up its action in support of SMEs by supplementing its traditional global loans with venture capital assistance for smaller businesses and funding for schemes in labour-intensive sectors, notably health, education and urban renewal.In 1997, the EIB lent ECU 26.2 billion, of which ECU 22.9 billion within the Union. Of this total, ECU 3.517 billion were provided in Italy.

(1) The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 30 March 1998, when ECU 1 = GBP 0.64, IEP 0.79, USD 1.07 and ITL 1 958.