Amid the splendour of Michelangelo’s architectural innovations at the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill, delegates from six European countries signed the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957. The treaty, which included the articles that founded the European Investment Bank, was “a declaration of future good intentions,” according to one historian. For two weeks, we are publishing a series of stories to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the treaty—one for each decade of the EIB story. These are stories of how the EIB helped turn good intentions into reality.
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The first journey for the wing of an Airbus A380 airliner doesn’t involve a take-off. In fact, it travels by the rather old-fashioned conveyances of barge and ship. Constructed in Broughton in the UK, the giant wing is shipped from North Wales to Toulouse, where it is fitted to the body of the biggest airliner in the world. Other sections arrive at the assembly hall from Hamburg and Cadiz. Airbus is a success story for European cooperation, in that an aircraft produced in several countries and with suppliers in still more countries runs neck and neck with Boeing in the world airliner industry.
The EIB has been on board every new Airbus developed since the A300, whose original manufacturing facilities in Toulouse and St. Nazaire were financed with a FRF 80 million loan in 1971. The A300 was a response to the fragmented nature of aircraft manufacture at that time and the need to consolidate into larger companies to finance the big research and development bills of increasingly complex projects. “Large high-tech projects required large capital expenditure,” says José Doramas Jorge Calderón, senior economist in the EIB’s air, maritime and innovative transport division. “Bigger companies or consortia, it was clear, could handle that better.” In the US, companies like Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed, which at that time had 80% of the world airliner market, sensed the need for consolidation. Europe saw it too. Airbus started as a multi-national project with participants from France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, which was backed mainly by the French and German governments. Airbus Industrie was formed in 1970 by Aerospatiale of France and Deutsche Airbus. In 1971 it gained a Spanish partner, Construcciones Aeronáuticas, and its earlier association with Hawker Siddeley Aviation turned into a full British stake in 1979 with British Aerospace.