With the financial support of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Fortis Bank signed a EUR 46.8 million loan agreement with IMEC to finance the construction of a 300mm (1) research facility at IMEC, Europe's largest independent micro- and nanoelectronics research center. To enable the construction of this major project, which includes a clean room, a central utility building and an office building, a further EUR 37.2 million was previously advanced by the Flemish Government in November 2002.

The EUR 46.8 million loan was planned by Fortis Bank earlier this year. Using a facility that the European long-term financing institution EIB offers to Belgian banks for projects in the area of innovation, EIB created the opportunity for Fortis to refinance IMEC's loan by means of a favorable credit facility. The loan is covered by a guarantee by the Flemish Government.

The new clean room will enable IMEC to maintain its worldwide leading role in research in the field of nano-scaled technologies. The construction of the clean room involves an investment of 84 million euro. The grant of EUR 37.184 million from the Flemish Government and positive signals from the industry worldwide to continue collaboration with IMEC in pioneering research for the 300mm era resulted in the start of the construction of the new research facility in February 2003. The technical infrastructure will be complete in April 2004, ready for the installation of the research equipment.

Meanwhile, IMEC has concluded partnerships with five of the world's leading semiconductor manufacturers, Infineon, Intel, Philips, Samsung Electronics and STMicroelectronics, who will actively participate in IMEC research programs that target technology generations four to six years ahead of current state-of-the-art IC production. These programs will gradually evolve from 200mm to 300mm wafers in IMEC's new research facility. Letters of intent with several leading equipment manufacturers have been signed to deliver the latest process tools.

Prof. Gilbert Declerck, President and CEO of IMEC said: The financial support by EIB and Fortis and the grant by the Flemish Government for our new facility in which we will research next-generation IC process technologies and nanotechnologies, are important steps to broaden our research within the European Union. The 300mm clean room will keep Europe at the forefront of nano-scaled IC process technologies. We are looking forward to further extend our partnerships on nanoelectronics research within Europe through the means of the European Commission.

Mr. Philippe Maystadt, EIB president, said: Financing innovation and R&D in Europe has become a main objective for the EIB since EU Heads of State decided at the 2000 Lisbon Summit to encourage the evolution towards a knowledge-based economy. Technological research and development is therefore a key priority. With this loan, we're helping to build a unique research platform that will allow IMEC and its partners to remain at the forefront in nanotechnology research and stay abreast of the semi-conductor technology roadmap. The whole operation will help to foster the international competitiveness of the European industry in a sector that is driving the Information Society.

Mr. Herman Verwilst, President, Fortis Bank, said: The establishment of IMEC in 1984 was the start of a close partnership between Fortis Bank and IMEC. Fortis Bank has financed several phases of IMEC's current research infrastructure. We are very pleased that we now can support IMEC in the investment of one of the most advanced nanoelectronics research facilities in the world. Know-how at world-class level attracts new knowledge and research contracts. This guarantees the further development of IMEC as an important economic factor for the region of Leuven and Flanders.

Mr. Dirk Van Mechelen, Flemish Minister for Science and Technological Innovation said: The Flemish Government was the first to support the construction of the new clean room by an extra grant of EUR 37.184 million, the largest Flemish investment in research infrastructure ever. The extension of IMEC's research facilities is essential for IMEC to remain at the top in advanced microelectronics and nanotechnology research. With this new clean room, IMEC will be able to fulfill the challenges as dictated by the Frame Agreement with the Flemish Government.

The grant by the Flemish Government was a strong signal to the international industry. This support has given credibility to the project and initiated the international industry to discuss partnerships with IMEC in the area of nanoelectronics research. This has resulted in important long-range contracts with the world's leading chip manufacturers. It was also a strong signal to the European Commission from which we hope that this will also evolve to financial support for these research laboratories.

European Research Commissioner Mr. Philippe Busquin said: The Commission wholly supports this initiative. Nanoelectronics and nanotechnologies are of vital importance. A strong European Research Area in this field will allow European industry to strengthen its competitiveness by further developing the high-tech know-how required to stay in the race with the US and Asia that are both investing massively in this field. The EIB-IMEC initiative will help ensure continued investment and progress in nanotechnologies, as well as further developments and innovations in the years to come. It is essential that we co-operate on all levels, from basic research to big financial investment, and focus on improving research facilities.

About IMEC

IMEC (Inter-university MicroElectronics Center) was founded in 1984 and today is Europe's largest independent research center in the field of microelectronics, nanotechnology, enabling design methods and technologies for ICT systems. IMEC's activities concentrate on the design technology for integrated information and communication systems; silicon process steps and modules, silicon processes; nanotechnology, microsystems, alternative devices and packaging; solar cells; and advanced training in microelectronics. IMEC is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has a staff of more than 1300 people including over 380 industrial residents and guest researchers. Its revenue in 2002 of more than 138Meuro was derived from agreements and contracts with the Flemish government, equipment and material suppliers and semiconductor and system-oriented companies worldwide, the EC, MEDEA+ and ESA. News from IMEC is located at www.imec.be.

About European Investment Bank

The role of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the financial EU institution, is to finance investment projects contributing to the balanced development of the Union. Set up in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Community, the EIB operates as a bank and, with its triple-A credit rating, raises on the capital markets the bulk of the resources that it deploys to finance projects meeting the Union's broad objectives. In response to the guidelines mapped out by the Heads of State or Government in 2000 in Lisbon to build a European knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy, the EIB Group started its Innovation Initiative. I2I as it is referred to is a dedicated program of medium and long-term loans allowing the Bank to make available over 50 billion euro until 2010 for projects in the sectors of R&D, Information and Communication technologies (ICT) and Education and Training. Since 2000, the EIB has approved financing facilities for 42 R&D projects for an amount of some 6,8 billion EUR. The European Investment Fund (EIF), EIB's affiliate for venture capital and guarantee operations, is managing a portfolio of about 200 funds - mainly technology funds focusing on innovative companies - corresponding to commitments in excess of 2.5 billion.

About Fortis Bank

Fortis Bank is part of Fortis, an international financial services provider active in the fields of banking, insurance and investment. With a market capitalization of EUR 20 billion and around 68,000 employees, Fortis ranks in the top 20 of European financial institutions. At 30 June 2003 Fortis had total assets of EUR 501 billion.

In its home market, the Benelux countries, Fortis occupies a leading position and offers a broad range of financial services to individuals, companies and the public sector. Outside its home market, Fortis concentrates on selected market segments. Fortis is managed with a view to sustainable economic growth and a commitment to the community and the environment. Its commitment to the welfare of its millions of customers keeps Fortis anchored in the local communities in which it operates. By combining know-how and experience with global strength, Fortis supports its customers worldwide in an ongoing process of personal, social and commercial growth. Fortis is listed on the exchanges of Amsterdam, Brussels and Luxembourg and has a sponsored ADR program in the United States

(1) 300mm refers to the diameter of the silicon wafers that are used for the production of ICs. IMEC's current facility is suitable for equipment that handles wafers with a diameter of 200mm. Currently, semiconductor manufacturers change their production base by transitioning from 200mm to 300mm silicon wafers to decrease the cost per chip for large-volume manufacturing. Equipment suppliers develop the most advanced equipment only for 300mm. Consequently, advanced process research will need to be performed in a 300mm research facility.