Greece pledges fast aid for Balkan neighbors’ projects

Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday that contrary to recent criticism the Greek Plan for Balkan Economic Reconstruction (ESOEAB) – a 550-million-euro investment subsidy program for six of Greece’s neighbors – was developing fast and effectively. Speaking to a gathering of diplomatic representatives of Balkan nations and the other 24 members of the enlarged European Union in Thessaloniki’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he said it was in Greece’s interest to promote the development of its neighbors. «Greece knows precisely how the pulse of all Balkan countries beats… we know that in the Balkans of 65 million people, it is peace, stability and a European orientation that will make our region attractive in all respects, politically, economically and culturally,» he said. The prime minister said ESOEAB, which is intended to assist the development process in Serbia-Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, will run its course well before its planned expiry in 2006, and will be implemented at three levels. The first concerns private productive investment, which will absorb 20 percent of the entire program. The second concerns low-cost projects, taking up just 1 percent and being promoted through the Greek embassies, and the third, targeting large infrastructure projects, will absorb the remaining 79 percent. Simitis said that 18 months after ESOEAB was launched, 29 private investments schemes and 29 small projects were being implemented, while of the 23 large infrastructure works approved, six are being implemented. According to an evaluation study by the Thessaloniki-based University of Macedonia, another 10 such projects can be implemented soon if the recipients also file the additional technical data required. Subsidy rates exceed 75 percent. Serbia is expected to absorb the lion’s share of ESOEAB subsidies. Simitis made particular reference to the Skopje-Nis section of Highway 10, which will connect Thessaloniki with central Europe and is budgeted to absorb subsidies totaling 107 million euros, and to the modernization of Bulgaria’s Danube port of Lom, for which disbursement of funds is due to begin next month or in early 2004. Greece has proposed a donors conference in Belgrade, with the participation of companies and international organizations, such as the World Bank, which may also be interested in participating in private financing concession schemes. It has also suggested that the allocation of funds may be restructured in favor of private investment schemes in the future, as called for by the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV). Greece has committed itself to setting aside at least 0.20 percent of its gross national product for international development aid. This arises from its obligations as a member of the European Union and of the Development Aid Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).