The financing of small and medium-sized projects to improve infrastructures in assisted areas as well as investments related to international traffic links, education, health and urban renovation and transport are being supported with a EUR 200 million global loan to Banca OPI from the European Investment Bank, the European Union's financing institution.

The loan, which represents the first tranche of a total EIB financing of EUR 400 million, was signed in Rome by Thomas Hackett, director of the EIB's Italy, Greece and Islands office, and Elia Colabraro, Banca OPI's chief executive officer. The EIB has chosen Banca OPI (the 100%-owned subsidiary of SANPAOLO IMI )in view of its experience and efficiency as a financial intermediary to develop further its lending in favour of medium and small scale infrastructure investments managed by local authorities, public sector entities and, to a smaller extent, charitable organizations located in the Mezzogiorno and objective 2 areas on the Centre-North of Italy.

The EUR 200 million facility will be dedicated mainly to regional development areas with a special focus on the Mezzogiorno. As of 1st January 2003, Banco di Napoli's infrastructure and public sector department has been transferred to Banca OPI, thus reinforcing its lending capacity in terms of regional development penetration, both through the branch network of the new Sanpaolo Banco di Napoli, launched on 1st July 2003 and now the leading bank in the region, and through the opening of specific Banca OPI headquarters in Naples.. Several new regional offices are scheduled for opening throughout 2003-2004 in the major objective 1 towns.

Banca OPI's commitment to the Mezzogiorno was recently reinforced by its partnership, together with Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), with Confindustria in the Fondazioni Mezzogiorno initiative, also involving the advisory participation of the EIB and Sviluppo Italia. The newly launched initiative is dedicated to the promotion, support and development of feasibility studies for potential infrastructure and industrial/service investments to be realised in the Mezzogiorno, and to fostering the realisation of such projects in priority regional development areas.

The European Investment Bank finances capital investment furthering EU integration, in particular: regional development; trans-European networks in transport, telecoms and energy; industrial competitiveness and integration; small and medium sized enterprises; environmental protection; energy security, and health and education projects. It also operates outside the EU within the framework of the EU's external co-operation policy. Owned by the EU Member States, the EIB raises its funds on the international capital markets and is AAA-rated. In 2002, the EIB lent some EUR 40 billion, of which EUR 6 billion in Italy.