"The Accession Countries have merited EU membership". They have made supreme social, political and economic efforts and the successful transition to democracy, constitutionality and a market economy was by no means a foregone conclusion. Now that the burden of enlargement has hitherto been borne largely by the Accession Countries, the 15 EU Member States have the opportunity of demonstrating generosity and flexibility as they stand only to gain through enlargement. EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen expressed his conviction before the 550 guests at the EIB Forum that the political impetus for enlargement would not lose momentum and that the Enlargement Summit in Copenhagen in December would be a success. The decisive test for European solidarity would then come in 2003 when, after the anticipated positive decision of the European Parliament, the enlargement treaty would have to be ratified by the 25 national Parliaments. Commissioner Verheugen as well as Pat Cox, the President of the European Parliament, pressed strongly for a committed social debate to be set in train to counter the fears of the population and to convince them of the opportunities offered by enlargement for Europe as a whole. Both also emphasized that failure to enlarge the EU would be catastrophic for the Accession Countries and would imply, for the present EU, foregoing economic growth.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, the Polish President, reminded Forum guests at an evening event in the Viennese city hall of the division of Europe prior to 1989. Much had been achieved since then, much remained to be done and the success hitherto provided a stimulus for completing the structural reforms still ahead. Enlargement represented the greatest opportunity for ensuring security, trust, solidarity and progress. "We believe in Europe, we believe in our future". Poland had made considerable economic headway, competition within the European internal market indeed represented a challenge, but it was entirely manageable; after 12 years of economic liberalization, the Polish economy was now in a position to take advantage of the internal market, all the more so if foreign direct investment further contributed towards economic modernization on a sustainable basis.

Karl-Heinz Grasser, the Austrian Finance Minister, stressed the need for institutional reform of the EU in order to guarantee efficient decision-making mechanisms in a Union enlarged to 25 members. He was convinced that enlargement would bring benefits for the whole of Europe, especially for Austria, whose businesses had committed themselves vigorously to the Accession Countries. Above-average economic growth was to be expected in the Accession Countries for many decades, which would give Europe new economic impetus. Hans Hoogervorst, the Dutch Finance Minister, urged more efficient deployment of EU resources, in those areas where they were most urgently needed. Csaba László, the Hungarian Finance Minister, confirmed that his Government would continue to steer its present course of attracting foreign investment through a policy geared to stability and consequently spurring economic modernization.

Günter Verheugen emphasized that Romania and Bulgaria would receive special support in order to prepare for their later accession (2007) and that only after their accession could the present enlargement process be viewed as completed.

Josef Tosovský, the former Governor of the Czech Republic's Central Bank, pointed out that the Accession Countries' membership of Economic and Monetary Union formed part of the enlargement treaty; hence the question was not whether but when the Accession Countries would join the euro zone. The pros and cons had to be weighed up pragmatically.

The second day of the Forum was devoted to more practical issues of how the Accession Countries could accelerate the process of catching up economically.  It was clearly acknowledged that modernization and development of infrastructure constituted a key task and that the European Investment Bank had already made a decisive contribution on this front; as Philippe Maystadt, EIB President, stressed, the Bank would further pursue its efforts with vigour. Innovative financing formulae such as Public-Private Partnerships could help attain this goal and the EIB would bring forward its Europe-wide experience with such arrangements. The speakers agreed that, above all, the swift development of infrastructure required strategic planning, clear priorities and, especially, the type of long-term financing traditionally offered by the EIB.

There was also consensus that foreign direct investment gave vital momentum to the catching-up process as it brought both capital and know-how to the Accession Countries. Here too, the EIB offered its services as a strong and firmly established financing partner in the Accession Countries. In summing up, Wolfgang Roth and Ewald Nowotny, EIB Vice-Presidents, drew attention to the fact that tasks still had to be accomplished, however, in further boosting direct investment, such as strengthening of the legal framework and, above all, practical implementation of laws, abolition of excessive regulations and red tape, a more courageous approach to restructuring companies including necessary labour-shedding and, finally, close cooperation between enterprises and universities and colleges with a view to training qualified manpower. There was also unanimity that it would be useful for the corporate sector if industrial development agencies were to spare companies protracted administrative procedures and if efforts were additionally to be made to develop the necessary infrastructure, including that which directly benefited enterprises.

Wolfgang Schüssel, the Austrian Chancellor, laid particular emphasis on the importance of eastward enlargement for Austria, which was surrounded by four Accession Countries whose anticipated strong economic growth should also provide Austria with fresh impetus. The costs of enlargement bore no relation to the much larger expected gains and the prospect of restoring stable relations with the country's direct neighbours.

With loans to date totaling EUR 18 billion, the European Investment Bank, the EU's financing institution, is the leading foreign source of financing for the Accession Countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The EIB finances infrastructure and corporate investment, as well as supporting smaller scale projects mounted by local authorities and SMEs through its close-knit network of partner banks in those countries. EIB loans in the Accession Countries have so far particularly focused on the development of transport infrastructure (roads, railways and airports) and expansion of telecoms networks, facilitating the Accession Countries' access to the European internal market. At the same time, increasing importance is attached to environmental projects. The Bank is able to finance investment in infrastructure and environmental protection in tandem with grants from the European Commission's ISPA budget, so offering particularly attractive financing packages. The Bank recently accorded priority to the financing of foreign direct investment and has already achieved considerable success in this field.