FYROM gov’t and ELPE begin talks on OKTA State-run Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) and the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Thursday began high-level talks in Skopje on amending the 1999 agreement whereby the Greek firm acquired an 80 percent interest in FYROM’s biggest refinery, OKTA. The present FYROM government has said the agreement, concluded by its predecessor, granted ELPE monopolistic powers and the country’s constitutional court declared the agreement unconstitutional late last year. The European Commission has also said the preferential treatment of OKTA, which enjoys low tariffs of 1 percent while rivals pay 19 percent, is in violation of free market rules. ELPE has said the agreement grants it the privileges until May 2004. «The two sides agreed that the actions of each will be in the direction of respect for the legislation that applies to the energy sector, according to the criteria and the values of the EU,» said a statement after the first day of talks. SVVE calls for Balkan energy scheme, lower power rates The new conditions arising in Balkan energy markets require the systematic cooperation between nations in the area that must acquire a permanent and institutional character, the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (SVVE) said yesterday. SVVE representative G. Stavrou also called for specific measures to boost the competitiveness of Greek industry vis-a-vis those of EU partners. These include the lowering of the special consumption tax for fuel oil and diesel down to the lowest EU prices, a decoupling of the price of natural gas from the price of petroleum products and an extension of the reduced nighttime electricity rates for industry by two hours. He said lower power rates were a major issue for the private sector. Tourism Greece has by far the lowest rate of citizens among EU nations (9 percent) who take holidays abroad, according to European Commission data for the 1997-98 period. The most popular destinations are Germany and France. Greece is not the most popular destination in any of its EU partners, only the second most popular in Denmark, Austria and Sweden. Spain, France and Italy draw the overwhelming majority of European tourists, followed at a distance by the UK and Portugal. The data concerns stays of more than four nights. Investment funds The total net asset value of the 24 listed close-ended investment funds was 4.68 percent lower at 1,630 million euros at the end of January from a month earlier, the Union of Institutional Investors said. All but one of the 24 funds were trading at discounts of between 7.87 percent and 42 percent. Just two funds performed better than the general index of the Athens bourse which fell 2.16 percent in January. Syria The Exporters’ Association of Northern Greece (SEVE) is organizing a delegation of Greek firms to the EU-Mashrek Partenariat 2003, to be held in Damascus, Syria, April 11-13, for pre-arranged contacts of 400 EU firms with as many from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. It is the first time that the EU is sponsoring such an event in the Middle East. Details can be checked on the Web (http:/www.seve.gr/syria/).