The European Investment Bank (EIB) announces further long-term finance for BEF 5 billion (ECU 123.2 million)(1) advanced to Aquafin, the company responsible for managing wastewater treatment facilities in Flanders. The agreement, arranged in collaboration with Crédit Communal de Belgique, brings to BEF 16 billion aggregate EIB lending since 1994 for the programme carried out by Aquafin in the wastewater sector.

The finance contract was signed on 9 June at EIB's head office in Luxembourg by Mr R. Maenhaut, Chairman of Aquafin, and Mr J. De Greef, Deputy Managing Director and Rudolf de Korte, Vice-President of the EIB.

On this occasion, the EIB's Vice-President emphasised the importance of projects of the kind undertaken by Aquafin with a view to reducing pollution in Europe: "The present project is a prime example of positive action which the EIB is supporting within the Union to help in protecting the environment. By virtue of its regional dimension, this project will ultimately serve a population of 5.7 million. Furthermore, the investment in question will have a positive effect on water quality in the North Sea; it forms part of international measures being taken forward under the 1985 Convention on the North Sea (the aim of which is to reduce the level of pollution in these waters). It will thereby contribute towards safeguarding a natural asset shared by several EU countries."

The regional water management programme, initiated by Aquafin in 1990, encompasses construction and modernisation of main sewers, pumping stations and sewage treatment facilities throughout the Region of Flanders. Aquafin currently manages 148 wastewater treatment plants and some 2 800 km of mains sewers. After 7 years activity, new projects carried out by Aquafin on behalf of the Flemish Government have involved investments of BEF 28.2 billion.

Over the past five years the Bank has committed in excess of BEF 1 100 billion (some ECU 28 billion) for environmental purposes. These funds have gone mainly into water resource management (construction of sewerage and wastewater treatment systems) and solid waste processing. Schemes financed have also included projects to improve the quality of urban life and to introduce less-polluting production processes in the energy, chemicals, petrochemicals and motor vehicle sectors.

This third loan to Aquafin comes under the Amsterdam Special Action Programme (ASAP) set up by the EIB in November 1997 to foster investment and employment in Europe. The purpose of ASAP is to target a substantial share of EIB financing towards labour intensive projects in the health and education sectors, environmental protection and urban renewal. To date, ASAP has resulted in some fifty financing commitments by the EIB in these fields, totalling more than ECU 6 billion and involving all the European Union Member States. The Programme also includes a special component geared towards providing SMEs with greater access to venture capital, in liaison with the banking community : eleven operations, for an aggregate amount of ECU 384 million, as well as establishment of the European Technology Facility - endowed with ECU 125 million by the EIB and being administered by the EIF - go to show that this ASAP "SME window" is already producing tangible results.

(1) The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 31/03/1998, when ECU 1 = BEF 40.7, 0.64 GBP.