The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union's financing institution, has provided EUR 20 million for schemes to upgrade the environmental operating conditions of seven drinking water treatment plants in northern and central Morocco, including the major Bou Regreg complex serving the cities of Rabat and Casablanca. The guarantee and finance contracts were signed on 26 December 2002 in Rabat by the Minister of Finance and Privatisation, Mr Oualalou, the Chief Executive of Office National de l'Eau Potable (ONEP), Mr Fassi Fihri, and EIB Vice President, Francis Mayer.

This ONEP-promoted project will markedly improve the drinking water treatment system by eliminating environmentally hazardous wastewater discharges and ensuring more efficient use of a key natural resource for the well-being of Morocco's population and economy.

The project is expected to have a substantial environmental impact, justifying the granting of an interest subsidy financed from EU budgetary resources. This fourth EIB loan signed with ONEP brings the total amount advanced by the Bank to this utility to EUR 160 million. It illustrates the importance that the EIB attaches, in common with all EU Member States, to supporting the water sector in Morocco, and complements upstream the Bank's numerous operations in favour of agricultural irrigation and sanitation projects, so covering all stages of the water cycle.

Since 1978, the EIB has advanced some EUR 2 billion for large-scale projects contributing to the development of the Moroccan economy, such as the first EU-Morocco power grid interconnection via the Strait of Gibraltar, high-voltage electricity transmission facilities and power supplies to rural areas, upgrading of interregional and international telephone networks, and large-scale water management schemes (sewerage systems in several coastal towns, irrigation of farmland, etc.). The EIB has also helped to finance SMEs in the productive and cooperative sectors through global loans intended particularly for facilitating joint ventures between Moroccan and European operators.

Having provided over EUR 12.6 billion to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Countries since 1974, the EIB is especially committed to supporting the efforts of these economies to prepare for market liberalisation with a view to the creation of a free trade zone with the EU by 2010.

Following the Barcelona European Council (15 and 16 March 2002), the EIB stepped up its cooperation with the Mediterranean Partner Countries by introducing its new Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP). Officially launched in Barcelona on 18 October 2002, this instrument is endowed with extra financial resources that will enable the EIB gradually to scale up its annual lending activity in the region from EUR 1.5 billion to EUR 2 billion.

In qualitative terms, the new facility accords priority to financing private sector ventures with the dual aim of liberalising the economy and strengthening competition. FEMIP likewise focuses on social-sector projects, particularly in the fields of health, education and environmental protection, important factors in achieving social stability and encouraging productive investment.