On 24-25 April 2003, the City of Marseille, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations Group (CDC) and Caisse Nationale des Caisses d'Épargne (CNCE) held a major conference on the theme of "Sustainable Investment in the Mediterranean" at the Palais du Pharo in Marseille. Conducted under the patronage of Mr Dominique de Villepin, France's Minister for Foreign Affairs, this brought together some 350 experts from the political, industrial, financial and consular spheres on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Against the backdrop of continuing political tension in the region and the recent launch of the EIB's new financial facility for the Mediterranean Partner Countries (MPC), endowed with EUR 8-10 billion over the coming 4 years, the conference gave practical expression to the Euro-Mediterranean dialogue on an essential objective: promoting private sector development and foreign direct investment in these countries ahead of the planned creation of a Euro-Mediterranean customs union by 2010.

The conference on focused on the opportunities for, and obstacles to, the sustainable development of the economies of the Union's Mediterranean Partner Countries, especially the problem issue of reconciling economic growth with social and environmental standards in private-sector investment.

The participants agreed to step up their initiatives in support of European investment projects in the Mediterranean, taking advantage of the new financing facilities set up by the European Union through the EIB. The conference highlighted the following key factors for the development of trade and long-term prosperity in the MPC:

  • an increase in the volume of the EIB's financial assistance to the MPC to EUR 2 billion per year. 30-40% will be devoted to private sector initiatives, while the remainder will be deployed in support of major projects or high social value-added sectors such as the environment, health and education. In this regard, the conference noted that private sector projects already accounted for over 30% of the EUR 1.5 billion approved by the EIB for the MPC in the past six months;

  • development of new - or currently scarce - financial products for strengthening companies' equity, such as participating or conditional loans, subordinated loans, guarantee funds, etc. Such products have a substantial leverage effect insofar as they facilitate firms' access to bank financing and trigger the involvement of other financial players, e.g. the local banking sector and the co-organisers of the conference (CDC, CNCE);

  • assisting the local banking sector in providing long-term or leasing finance to SMEs in the MPC, including joint ventures between local and EU entrepreneurs.

Giving practical expression to these conclusions, the Marseille conference saw the launch of Averroès Finance, a regional venture capital fund of funds. A joint stock company with capital contributions totalling EUR 26.5 million from CDC, PROPARCO (AFD Group), CNCE (Caisse d'Epargne Provence-Alpes-Corse - CEPAC) and the EIB, Averroès Finance is based in Marseille. It will acquire holdings in venture capital funds established in the MPC, which will in turn invest in Mediterranean SMEs, thus helping to develop the still-embryonic venture capital business in these countries (see dedicated press release).