The European Investment Bank on Thursday released its report detailing 2005 loans totalling â‚¬47.4 billion towards projects "furthering the European Union's political objectives" in EU countries, potential union members, and countries in North Africa and the Middle East, up from â‚¬43.2b. the year before.
While Israel was not included on the 2005 list, EIB Vice President Philippe de Fontaine Vive Curtaz had told Finance Minister and current Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in September the institution was investigating opportunities to renew its activity here.
Specifically, the EIB had expressed interest in participating in funding the Tel Aviv light rail project, the Jezreel Valley rail line, and transportation projects linking Israel with neighboring countries.
Any EIB investment benefiting development projects in Israel would bring an end to more than a decade of absence by the bank.
The EIB ceased lending in 1995, saying Israel's per capita income exceeded EIB criteria and that the government would not guarantee the investments. However, a government source indicated at the time that the bank withdrew its activity due to European hostility towards Israeli government policy and the lack of economic stability in the country, while it continued to invest in the Palestinian Authority.
The most significant project benefiting from EIB assistance prior to the lapse was the Nahal Soreq sewage project, to which it lent about $300 million.
According to the government source, the renewed interest in investment was prompted by the improved political atmosphere regarding Israel since the Disengagement.
Officially, however, the renewal is being considered in the context of the Barcelona Process - linking the European Union more closely with 12 non-European countries of the Mediterranean Basin, including Israel - as well as the more recent and more widely ranging European Neighborhood Policy.
The EIB invested â‚¬55 million in Gaza and the West Bank in 2005, of which â‚¬45m. went to upgrading and reinforcing the Palestinian power grid and â‚¬10m. to a new fund guaranteeing credit for small and medium-sized businesses. The institution also lent â‚¬309.4m. in Egypt (including â‚¬284.4m. toward natural gas projects), â‚¬300m. in Syria (natural gas and telephone projects), and â‚¬170m. in Lebanon (towards the Beirut-Damascus highway, a wastewater treatment plant, and small ventures).
In total, the EIB provided â‚¬42.3b. to projects within the EU's 25 member states and â‚¬5.1b. to projects in non-member states, including membership candidates Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey.
The EIB's primary areas of investment include regional development, transportation, telecommunications, energy, research, the environment, health, and education.