Europe wants to help Iraq rebuild after end of war

The European Union plans to state the case for its role in the reconstruction of Iraq at a meeting of world financial leaders and the International Monetary Fund’s spring meeting, which kick off this weekend in Washington, the EU presidency said yesterday. «It would be a mistake to ignore the EU,» Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said. Greece is the current holder of the rotating EU presidency. The EU has experience rebuilding economies devastated by wars, Christodoulakis said, pointing to assistance given in the reconstruction of the Balkans. The G7 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US comes as the Saddam Hussein regime appears to have collapsed. Christodoulakis said the EU plans to discuss the setting up of institutions to pave the way for democracy in Iraq. Yesterday the EU sought to deflect criticism that it was only interested in economic gains as it sent an additional 79 million euros to Iraq in emergency aid on top of the 21 million euros already disbursed for food, medicine, drinking water and shelter to Iraqi civilians. Germany and France, which had led opposition to the war without UN backing, yesterday reiterated calls for the global organization to take charge of the rebuilding efforts in Iraq. The EU plans to reaffirm its commitment to structural reforms and the Lisbon agenda to boost economic growth at the G7 and IMF meetings, Christodoulakis said. The talks are also expected to look into the kinds of structural reforms needed for the different countries. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development yesterday lowered its 2003 growth forecast for the eurozone to 1 percent, close to the International Monetary Fund’s 1.1 percent estimate. The European Commission trimmed its 1.8 percent forecast to 1 percent earlier this week. Meanwhile, with the war in Iraq apparently coming to an end, Greece should be able to contain its losses and move forward, Christodoulakis said. «I believe some sectors of the economy were affected [by the war]. There is time and there are ways to repair the damage,» he said. He said oil prices should fall back to last year’s levels based on current estimates, while the right strategy could put the tourism industry back on an even keel again. The tourism sector, the most vulnerable to the fallout from the conflict, has seen bookings in the first four months of the year decline by 10-20 percent. The government had previously said it plans to launch a 7-million-euro marketing campaign to raise the country’s profile once the war in Iraq ends. Premier Costas Simitis on Tuesday announced the creation of a ministerial committee to coordinate the various tourism bodies for greater efficiency.