Thessaloniki – The countries of the Black Sea region must work hard to integrate their economies, in order to profit from a globalized environment, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos yesterday advised an audience of politicians, businessmen and bankers at the Black Sea Business Day, an annual event organized for the fifth time by the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB). In an oblique reference to the recent merger of Hellenic Petroleum and Petrola Hellas, he said it was necessary to create big, financially healthy enterprises in order to make the most of the opening of the markets. «Achieving regional integration in southeastern Europe is the best way for us to become a part of the global economic system. There are significant advantages in (this region). There is a wealth of natural resources, and the opportunity to create a big unified market,» Tsochadzopoulos said. BSTDB was established in 1998 by the 11 member states of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization (BSEC) – Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. With a capital of 1 billion in Special Drawing Rights (or about $1.41 billion), BSTDB provides project financing, guarantees and equity for development projects supporting both public and private enterprises in its member states. In this, it is assisted by organizations such as the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which targets its funding at the former Soviet Union and its satellites in eastern Europe. Yesterday, BSTDB signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Union that will further facilitate financing. Promoting economic cooperation in what is a region of complex interests and alliances, especially on the eastern shores of the Black Sea is not easy. Some participants, however, felt that the meeting shied away from addressing political issues. «Half of the member states have recently been at war with each other and are still hostile to each other,» said Elias Alexopoulos, a lecturer in international relations at the University of the Aegean. «Russia fought with Moldova; Armenia fought with Azerbaijan; Georgia has lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia to secessionist movements aided and abetted by Russia. How can you promote interstate trade if you do not address those issues?» Indeed, in some cases, such as Armenia’s dispute with Azerbaijan, mainly over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, passions run so high that not even contraband trade exists between these countries. As if to confirm the suspicion that not all members want to cooperate with each other, Samir Sharifov, executive director of Azerbaijan’s State Oil Fund, presented the networks of oil and natural gas, under construction or planned, that will bring the Caspian’s riches to BSEC countries and further, to western Europe. Several pipelines were shown crisscrossing most BSEC countries. They all skirted Armenia. From the more peaceful western coast of the Black Sea, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Nikolay Vassilev said regional stability has been increasing and there is less political risk. He detailed a series of measures his government had taken to attract foreign capital, including tax breaks. Nothing, however, beats Bulgaria’s wages – which average 144 euros per month – as an attraction to foreign capital, as Greek workers, if not employers, have learned to their cost.