The Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) is granting a EUR 100 million loan for the extension of the fixed line telephone network to poorly served areas of Syria.

The project referred to as the third rural telecoms project will connect 430,000 new customers across 4,300 villages located in mostly rural areas across the country to the telephone network through the installation of suitable access technologies based on copper, fibre or wireless solutions. The project will be implemented and managed by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE).

This is the first telecom sector operation signed under FEMIP in the Mediterrannean region. The finance contract was signed on 16 December 2005 in Paris by Mr Philippe de Fontaine Vive, EIB Vice-President in charge of FEMIP, and Dr. M. Bachir Munajed, Minister of Communications and Technology for Syria.

Mr de Fontaine Vive commented: This is the first FEMIP loan signed in the telecom sector and the first one signed in the Mediterranean region overall. It thereby not only demonstrates the Bank's commitment to support viable infrastructure projects in Syria, but also our overall strategy to foster more investments in the telecom sector, which is essential for economic development in the Mediterranean region. Syrian Telecom, which will be the beneficiary of the Bank's loan, faces a challenging task over the next three years with the so-called third rural telecom project, providing about 400,000 new phone connections in about 4,000 locations across 13 provinces. This project will allow the rural population to benefit from telephony voice services as well as possible internet access that will increase the quality of life and contribute to overall economic growth in rural areas of the country. The Syrian telecom sector as a whole also stands at a turning point in its development, as witnessed by the current preparation of a new telecom sector law, which I trust will be adopted next year by the Syrian authorities. The EIB will closely follow the economic reform process of the Syrian telecom sector, given the huge potential the sector has to stimulate economic growth in Syria and attract private sector investment from abroad and across the Mediterrannean region. Achieving sustainable economic growth in Syria through increased private sector participation is a key objective of the European Union's economic cooperation with Syria. The rural telecoms project signed today under the Bank's FEMIP programme forms an integral part of this EU objective.