ECONOMY

Committee on OKTA

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have agreed to set up a committee to look into the controversy surrounding the FYROM fuel refinery OKTA which is controlled by Greek oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum. «We will establish a committee to regulate issues concerning OKTA’s operation which will be based on rules grounded in FYROM’s Constitution and legislation and European specifications,» Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said during a visit to Skopje yesterday. Hellenic Petroleum acquired a 54 percent stake in OKTA in 1999 but has since run into a succession of problems following a change of government in FYROM. Prior to his election last September, FYROM’s present prime minister, Branko Crvenkovski, threatened to tear up the agreement between the then-ruling party and Hellenic Petroleum should he win the elections. Since then, he has moderated his tone, saying the government would seek compensation from OKTA for its monopolistic privileges. The biggest setback, however, came in December when FYROM’s Constitutional Court annulled legislation that gave OKTA exclusive rights to import crude oil for less than 1 percent against 20 percent for other fuel companies. The court said the legislation violated the Constitution as it favored one company at the expense of others, resulting in an unequal market. The European Union had also warned against the stipulation, saying it went against the Stabilization and Association Agreement signed with FYROM in 2001. «There is a need to modify past regulations with the new facts so that the agreement will be legally acceptable,» Tsochadzopoulos said. Hellenic Petroleum is currently constructing a crude oil pipeline linking the OKTA refinery to Kosovo. Greece has said it aims to be the energy hub for the region.