In 2003, marked by the Growth Initiative which was promoted by the 6-month Italian Presidency, EIB activity in support of regional economies, environmental protection and human capital development expanded.

Loans in Italy ran to just under EUR 6 billion (EUR 5 925 million), slightly less than 2002's total (EUR 6 031 million). The Italian portfolio of over EUR 30.5 billion accounts for about 15% of aggregate loans disbursed by the Bank in the EU.

Lending in favour of Objective 1 & 2 regions (EUR 3 280 million) grew significantly and made up 80% of individual loans in 2003 (56% in 2002). Among the main projects were loans to regions, Marche (EUR 350 million), Campania (EUR 300 million) and Sardinia (EUR 100 million), for co-financing the 2004-2006 regional operational plans with structural funds.

Global loans to SMEs in less developed regions also increased (EUR 1 150 million from total global loans of EUR 1 900 million). To improve SME financing, global loans were allocated to new banks, including industrial leasing specialists. One operation worth mentioning is support for SMEs supplying FIAT. Overall, the EIB has 30 intermediary banks for SMEs, the largest network in the EU.

EIF (EIB's subsidiary providing venture risk capital & guarantees for innovative SMEs) activity increased by EUR 1 billion in 2003.

 The EIF's portfolio currently amounts to EUR 9 billion. The Italian market is very significant, comprising some EUR 2 billion in guarantees, including regional guarantee programmes embracing 16 regions and some EUR 300 million invested in 17 funds. Of these, 10 are specialised in hi-tech start-ups, some of which invest specifically in SMEs in southern Italy.

Overall, EUR 240 million was provided for operations involving new instruments specific to mid-cap companies such as Rinascente e Faso Borolo.

Environmental protection projects benefited from a total of EUR 3 billion.

In 2003, the EIB supplied finance benefiting urban areas in Rome, Ferrara, Padova, Genoa (City of Culture 2004), and Turin (Winter Olympic Games), e.g., urban renewal projects in outlying areas of Rome, including social infrastructure (crèches, activity centres for the elderly) made available for less advantaged social groups; financing of a new fast tram line in Padova. Urban projects provided the opportunity for new forms of cooperation with local authorities, banks and the EIB.

Civil protection projects received EUR 180 million for reconstruction in 16 regions affected by natural disasters. Similarly, over EUR 80 million went to reconstruction of infrastructure and flood prevention in Tuscany and Valle d'Aosta, which were hit by floods in 2000.

Safety and modernisation of the national transport network were supported by specific loans for luggage control systems in 4 airports and new infrastructure in Venice's Marco Polo airport. Sea transport saw improvements in some ports and the acquisition of two vessels for ethylene gas transport by Montana.

Land transport benefited from loans totalling EUR 360 million, which helped to modernise rolling stock and connected Trenitalia's passenger train systems.

Significant financing (some EUR 1 300 million) for efficient management of the national energy system as well as supply, production, transport and distribution was made available for 6 projects.

Development of human capital and knowledge, one of the EU's priority objectives during Italy's 6-month Presidency, was explicitly pursued by the Bank. In cooperation with Banca Intesa and the Foundations, the first student loan scheme was launched to facilitate students' access to three polytechnics (Bari, Milan and Turin). This is the first EIB loan of its type with a PPP arrangement. In addition, Enciclopedia Treccani received a loan (EUR 22 million) for the creation and publication of new encyclopaedias using digital technology. Telecom Italia was granted the first loan (EUR 150 million) for R&D and development of information technologies.

In 2004, the Bank will continue to support growth and competitiveness of the productive system, including the strengthening of infrastructure, via financing for regional development, environmental protection, TENs, SMEs and R&D in particular.

Against this backdrop, a Framework Agreement was agreed with the Ministry for Education, Universities and Research (MIUR), signed by Minister Moratti and EIB President Maystadt. This Framework Agreement aims to reinforce R&D activity as the basis for economic growth in Europe. This strategy, endorsed by the EU Heads of State or Government at the December 2003 European Council, provides for EIB financing of some EUR 40 billion in the EU by 2010.