During the official visit of the President and Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, Sir Brian Unwin and Mr. Rudolf De Korte, to Belgian political and business leaders, a loan agreement was signed between the EIB and KBC Bank NV.

The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, has granted KBC a general purpose line of credit in the amount of 99 million euros (4 billion BEF) (1) to finance small or medium-sized investments in the following sectors: industry, agriculture, services, health, education and urban renewal as well as environmental protection and energy management.

Commenting on the loan signature, the President of the EIB, Sir Brian Unwin, said: "Supporting investment in small enterprises, both in the industrial sector and in the important fields of health, education and urban environment, is a top priority for the EIB in its contribution to future growth and employment in the European Union. I am particularly glad to be able to achieve all these objectives with this loan of 4 billion BEF to KBC, one of our oldest and most valued banking partners".

This general purpose line of credit is, in fact, part of the EIB's "Amsterdam Special Action Programme" (ASAP) which runs until 2000 to stimulate growth and job creation in Europe. This programme broadens the scope of EIB support to include two labour-intensive sectors, namely education and health.

The loans will be made available via KBC's widespread network of branches to small and medium-sized enterprises and to local authorities (communes, provinces and regions) or their utilities.

This agreement is part of EIB's programme of support for SMEs. In Belgium, the KBC Group is an acknowledged partner of the EIB, since, previously, the Kredietbank, CERA Bank and Bank van Roeselare had been granted and had administered a total of fourteen general purpose EIB loans amounting to around 670 million euros for the support of more than 1 500 SME investment projects.

Amongst other objectives, the EIB supports SME and local-authority investments through its general purpose lines of credit, extended to some 120 banks across the European Union. These loans are similar lines of credit, whose use by the participating financial institutions, must conform to the EIB's intervention criteria. Over the last five years, similar loans amounting to circa 12.2 billion euros have been made available by the EIB to nearly 50 000 SMEs, some 9.2 billion euros for small- and medium-scale infrastructure projects and 800 million euros for investment in the education and health sectors. Over the same period in Belgium, around 4 000 small and medium-sized projects have been financed by EIB loans through the Belgian banks.The general purpose line of credit granted to KBC is also part of the Amsterdam Special Action Programme (ASAP) which runs until the year 2000 and which the EIB introduced to stimulate growth and employment in Europe. This programme entails the extension of EIB loans to the education and health sectors, two areas whereby investment projects are highly labour-intensive.

(1) 1 euro = BEF 40,3399.