ECONOMY

Finance minister wants close Greek-Bulgarian cooperation

Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said yesterday that Greece and Bulgaria should further develop their already close economic relations by engaging in common investment projects and an effort to upgrade infrastructure. «Trade is not enough,» Christodoulakis told an audience that included Bulgarian Finance Minister Milen Velchev, Environment Minister Dolores Arsenova and Parliament Speaker Ognyan Gerdjikov. They attended the inauguration of the refurbished Stomana steel mill, Bulgaria’s largest, at the industrial center of Pernik, west of the capital Sofia. Viohalco, Greece’s largest industrial group, acquired a 75 percent in Stomana two years ago. The acquisition and refurbishment of the steel mill represents the largest Greek investment, in a country where it already invests heavily. There are 1,500 Greek companies active in Bulgaria and total investment by Greek businesses is about 1.6 billion euros, representing 40 percent of Greek investments in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Annual trade volume is about 1 billion euros. Christodoulakis also praised the Bulgarian government’s efforts to prepare for its accession into the European Union. «We are especially happy with the very rapid steps the Bulgarian economy is taking in the direction of its entry into the EU. Greece steadily and systematically supports Bulgaria’s entry,» he said. Bulgaria, along with Romania and Croatia, has formally applied to join the EU. Both Bulgaria and Romania want to join in 2007, while Croatia is trying to catch up. Bulgaria is slightly ahead of Romania in implementing reforms that will make it eligible to join the EU. «I will only say one thing: Our relations with Greece were never better,» Velchev said. «I am deeply impressed both by the volume of Greek investment and the development of economic cooperation between our countries,» he added. Later yesterday, Christodoulakis met Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburg for about half an hour. Energy cooperation «We discussed several issues with the prime minister of Bulgaria, especially issues concerning the cooperation between the two countries on (transport, energy and communications) networks, especially in the energy sector,» Christodoulakis told reporters after the meeting. Greece has expressed interest in participating in the privatization of Bulgaria’s electricity distribution sector. Bulgaria’s electricity exports to all its neighboring countries account for a great part of its revenue. From Greece’s point of view, however, the most pressing issue is the construction of the pipeline connecting the Bulgarian port of Burgas with the Greek port of Alexandroupolis, in the northeast. The pipeline is also a priority project for Russia, which wants to bypass the Bosporus Strait, where Turkey uses the threat to the environment as a pretext to pressure Russia on matters involving regional strategic interests. With the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, Russia will have an outlet for exporting its oil produced in the Caspian Sea region, using an existing pipeline to the Black Sea port of Novorossisk and transporting the oil by ship to Burgas. This route would also compete with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline now under construction. Recently, Kazakhstan has also indicated an interest in participating in the building of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline.