The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, is lending EUR 300 million for investment planned under the Regional Operational Programme (ROP) for the Region of Apulia.

The loan will carry a term of 25 years, including a five-year grace period.

The EIB operation will supplement financial support from the Structural Funds spanning the period 2000-2006. More particularly, it will finance the regional component of the ROP, with the balance deriving from Community, national and private sources.

The loan agreement was signed by EIB Vice-President Massimo Ponzellini and the President of the Region of Apulia Raffaele Fitto, in the presence of the Minister for the Economy and EIB Governor for Italy Prof. Giulio Tremonti. The Ministry's Department for Development and Cohesion Policies cooperated actively with the EIB during the Bank's appraisal process.

The operation, which follows on from similar investment programme financing, within the context of the Community Support Framework, for the Regions of Basilicata and Campania, marks a further strengthening of ties between European Investment Bank activity and Structural Fund action in the Italian Mezzogiorno.

EIB Vice-President Ponzellini commented : " this loan represents a model for all of Europe's Objective 1 regions. Italy, and this is to the credit of its Department for Development and Cohesion Policies, is the country which best exemplifies the relationship between the EIB, the Structural Funds and national financial resources. The loan, in the wake of the rating recently accorded by Moody's, constitutes recognition of the Region of Apulia's credit standing, its endeavours to recover from the difficult financial situation of the mid-1990s and its commitment to optimising Structural Fund resources".

The investment programme encompasses infrastructural works (water management, forestation, environmental monitoring measures, promotion of renewable energy sources) and private-sector investment incentives designed to rationalise productive activity and to create new businesses.

Apulia, with its four million inhabitants, is one of the most densely populated Objective 1 regions in Italy.

The EIB, the European Union's long-term financing institution, funds investment promoting European integration in spheres such as regional development, trans-European transport, telecommunications and energy networks, industrial competitiveness and integration, SMEs, environmental protection and security of energy supplies. The EIB also operates outside the EU within the framework of Community development aid and cooperation policy. The EIB, owned by the Member States, raises resources on the capital markets ("AAA" issuer).