Mr Charles Milhaud, Chairman of the Management Board of Caisse Nationale des Caisses d'Epargne (CNCE), and Mr Philippe de Fontaine Vive, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), signed today in Marseille the first tranche of a EUR 250 million global loan from the EIB to CNCE in support of very small and micro firms.

This global loan is intended to finance, on particularly keen terms, capital investment in France by micro-enterprises (fewer than 10 employees) and very small businesses (fewer than 75 employees or a turnover of less than EUR 7.5 million) in the industrial, commercial and services sectors.

CNCE will transfer the EIB funds to the Caisses d'Epargne and its subsidiary, Banque Palatine (formerly Banque SanPaolo), which will onlend them to very small and micro firms. The modus operandi and eligibility criteria for this type of credit will be set out on the website in the section on SME financing.

The EIB, the European Union's long-term financing institution, raises large volumes of capital on the financial markets on advantageous terms, which it passes on in its loans with maximum transparency. Its primary task is to support through its financing the achievement of the European Union's objectives, in particular the balanced development and economic and social cohesion of the Member States. Accordingly, the development of SMEs ranks among its priorities.

The Groupe Caisse d'Epargne (GCE) is one of France's largest retail banks (4 700 branches), encompassing the Caisses d'Epargne and Crédit Foncier networks and its specialist subsidiaries. It is also one of the leading multi-purpose banks in France and with the absorption of investment bank IXIS now offers the full range of corporate, asset management and investor services. GCE is also the number one private investor in local investment capital (EUR 300 million a year) and second-biggest private operator on France's real estate leasing market.

Since 2000, eleven global loans have been concluded between the EIB and the Groupe Caisse d'Epargne: nine in support of small-scale infrastructure projects mounted by local authorities and two to finance SME capital expenditure through leasing operations.