The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's long-term financing institution, announces a EUR 110 million loan to the Autonomous Community of Asturias for financing infrastructure and industrial investment forming part of the Integrated Operational Programme for the region approved by the European Commission.

This is the EIB's second operation to cofinance a regional development programme in Spain, having granted a similar loan to Andalusia in September 2002.

This type of operation bolsters the EIB's close cooperation with the European Commission and local authorities in achieving the EU's objectives in less favoured regions. In this instance, the funds made available to the Asturias Region will serve to round off, on optimum terms, the financing of regional investment projects already attracting EU structural funds under the Community Support Framework for the period 2000-2006.

With a term of 25 years, this EIB loan will primarily be earmarked for improving the competitiveness of SMEs and other local firms and boosting their workforce; developing production structures; fostering the knowledge society (innovation, R&D, IT); safeguarding the environment, natural habitats and water resources; creating educational infrastructure; promoting urban and rural development; and upgrading transport and energy networks.

The operation will assist the development of this Objective 1 region on the north-east coast of Spain with a population of over 1 million.

The EIB was founded in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community, with the aim of fostering enhanced integration, balanced development and economic and social cohesion in the Member States by providing long-term financing for capital investment furthering EU objectives.

Specifically, the EIB supports viable projects promoting: development of the Union's less favoured regions; construction of trans-European transport, telecoms and energy networks; the international competitiveness and integration of Europe's industry, especially SMEs; environmental protection and improvement; security of the Union's energy supply; and health and education. Within certain limits, the EIB also provides financing outside the Union in support of the EU's policy of cooperation with third countries.

Owned by the EU Member States, the EIB funds its lending operations through borrowings raised on the capital markets, where its bond issues systematically enjoy the top AAA rating.

In 2001, the EIB signed loans in Spain totalling EUR 4 559 million.