The European Investment Bank (EIB) announces a EUR 121 million loan to Arianespace SA for part-financing a project comprising the construction of a new launch pad at the Guyane Space Centre (GSC) for the launch of Soyuz ST rockets, adaptation of Soyuz ST to the specific conditions of GSC and development of an improved version of that type of space launch vehicle.

The financing agreements were concluded in Paris on 21 March 2005 in the presence of the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The finance contract was signed by the Managing Director of Arianespace, Jean-Yves Le Gall, and EIB Vice-President Philippe de Fontaine Vive, along with Arianespace's Chairman Jean-Marie Luton. The contract for the French State's guarantee of Arianespace's commitments was signed by Finance Minister Thierry Breton, Research Minister François d'Aubert and Philippe de Fontaine Vive.

This project will be cofinanced by European Space Agency and European Union grants. It will be implemented by the European Space Agency. The new facilities will be operational and ready for the first Soyuz launch from Kourou in 2008.

At the signing ceremony in Matignon, Philippe de Fontaine Vive stated that this loan clearly demonstrates the value that Europe can add on at least three levels. Firstly, and most obviously, in terms of enhanced progress and competitiveness thanks to an increased applied research effort based on European centres of excellence such as Arianespace and ESA. The R&D on top of that financed by national budgets is of course made possible by the private sector but also by EU support, especially EIB loans. Secondly, in terms of greater social cohesion, as a sign of solidarity with the EU's priority regions - in this case Guyane. And thirdly, in terms of a strengthened partnership with Russia on the part of a technologically confident Europe in a bid to share its know-how with this major player.

The Arianespace-Soyuz programme is highly important, not only for the implementation of European space policy in cooperation with Russia, but also for Europe's Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) policy, the spearhead of the EU's Lisbon strategy. It is included in the EU's list of Quick Start projects. The Soyuz programme will also facilitate the implementation of a large-number of priority European initiatives such as the Galileo, Broadband and Digital Divide and GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) projects. In addition, as the launch vehicle for a number of other scientific programmes it will foster the development of new technologies under the seventh EU Framework Programme.

The EIB's financial support reaffirms the commitment of the EU's financing institution to the Lisbon strategy initiated by the European Council in 2000 and aimed at building a knowledge and innovation-based European economy. One of the pillars of this strategy is to boost RDI investment enabling Europe to catch up with its competitors. The declared goal is to increase the EU's investment in R&D from 1.9% to 3% of GDP by 2010.

Under its Innovation 2010 Initiative (i2i) in support of the Lisbon agenda, the EIB plans to lend up to EUR 50 billion for RDI projects by the end of the decade. Since the initiative's launch in 2000, the Bank has financed projects under i2i in the EU-25 to the tune of EUR 24.1 billion. It has funded a number of R&D programmes in France (Peugeot, EADS, SNECMA and Philips semi-conductors) and elsewhere in Europe (Alcatel, Bosch, Ericsson, IMEC, Infineon, Novo Nordisk, Siemens and several universities). In 2004 alone, the Bank financed some 60 i2i projects for a total of EUR 7 billion in the EU-25.