The European Investment Bank (EIB) is to provide EUR 150 million to counter the damage caused by the oil slick from the tanker Prestige in Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, the three worst affected regions. This operation will be implemented via the establishment of a securitisation fund consisting of EUR 150 million of assets acquired from Caixa Galicia, Caixanova and Caja Cantabria. This fund, to be called AyT Fondo Prestige Cajas and managed by the company Ahorro y Titulización, will issue bonds which will be subscribed in their entirety by the EIB.

This exceptional EIB financing will be be used first and foremost to sustain economic activity in the areas hardest hit by the oil escape from the Prestige, with special emphasis on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and local authorities. The three regions bearing the brunt of the ecological disaster are classified as Objective 1 areas under the European Union's assistance programmes.

The financing package put together by the Spanish Savings Banks Confederation (Confederación Española de Cajas de Ahorros - CECA) and the EIB will enable the three participating savings banks to make more medium and long-term credit available for investment by small and medium-sized businesses in the productive sectors most severely blighted by the environmental damage, such as fishing, aquiculture, seafood processing and marketing and coastal tourism. Also eligible to borrow are local authorities that mount schemes to clean up the coastline, improve the environment, create infrastructure or develop alternative economic activities generating employment in the affected areas.

With this credit line, the EIB and the savings banks will, exceptionally, be able to cover up to 100% of the external financing needs of projects. Interest rates will be advantageous, with repayment periods stretching up to 12 years.

The technique devised by CECA and Ahorro y Titulización of setting up asset securitisation funds that issue bonds which the EIB then subscribes has propelled the savings banks into the top place among financial institutions acting as EIB financing intermediaries in Spain. In the past year, the EIB made EUR 2 000 million available to Spanish SMEs and local authorities.

In recent years, the EIB has furnished special relief in the form of emergency financing and humanitarian aid to regions and countries stricken by natural disasters, such as eastern Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1997; Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998; Greece, Kosovo and Turkey in 1999; Mozambique and Romania in 2000; Hungary in 2001 and various countries in the Elbe river basin hit by last autumn's floods.

The EIB was created in 1958 by the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, with the remit of contributing to the integration, balanced development and economic and social cohesion of the Member States through long-term financing for projects furthering the Union's objectives.

In 2002, the EIB granted loans totalling approximately EUR 39 600 million, of which 5 426 million went towards projects in Spain.