The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, announces a loan for 100 billion lire (ECU 51 million (1)) to the Municipality of Florence for improvements to the urban environment.

The funds are going to cultural heritage, urban transport and urban renewal schemes. In the field of cultural heritage, the EIB will be financing projects undertaken by the public authorities to safeguard, preserve and renovate the city's artistic and architectural riches, ensure appropriate safety measures, carry out architectural improvements and restore historic buildings.

With regard to urban transport, the loan will contribute towards a range of infrastructural works, dedicated public transport lanes, car parks and cycle paths.

Urban renewal works in the Florence area will include demolition of obsolete buildings, land improvements, urbanisation and primary infrastructure networks.

At the signature ceremony, EIB Vice-President Massimo Ponzellini said : "The Municipality of Florence is the first in Italy to benefit directly from an EIB loan in support of urban renewal schemes. Over the past year, the EIB has stepped up its operations in this sector throughout Europe in line with the recommendations of the Amsterdam European Council".

Since adoption of the Amsterdam Special Action Programme (July 1997), the EIB has made available new loans totalling over ITL 2 500 billion (ECU 1 267 million) in the urban renewal sector.

The European Investment Bank was established in 1958 with a view to financing capital projects promoting EU objectives, particularly in the spheres of regional development, trans-European transport, telecommunications and energy networks, and the environment.In response to the Amsterdam Resolution on Growth and Employment (June 1997), the EIB's Board of Governors approved extension of Bank operations to the education, health, urban renewal and environmental protection sectors. These have been pinpointed as priority sectors helping to strengthen the EU's economic and social fabric and to create stable employment.

(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 = ITL 1 958.04, 0.64 GBP.