Southeastern European countries are moving toward a single energy market that will be connected to the EU energy market, securing Europe’s supplies, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said at the opening of the two-day Fifth Athens Forum yesterday. Sioufas expressed his optimism about the immediate transformation of the draft treaty on an energy community in Southeastern Europe into a primary political agreement at the next ministerial meeting in early December 2004 in Athens. The forums are a European Commission initiative and are held under the auspices of the Development Ministry. Sioufas said the government intends to promote the signing and application of the treaty as soon as possible. He stressed there is political agreement that the regional character of energy cooperation has to be reinforced: All countries contributing, as well as EU states, should share the same status and responsibilities in order to develop and jointly apply the appropriate mechanisms and institutions, to achieve economies of scale and greater development, and gradually incorporate local markets into the broader European one. The draft treaty currently being studied, according to the development minister, must be based on the main principles and the political agreements of this process. Sioufas underscored the importance of the swift construction of the Greece-Turkey and Greece-Italy natural gas pipelines (forming the basis for the European «Gas Ring»), the need for the quick promotion of the Greece-Slovenia-Austria natural gas interconnection and for the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline that will have obvious environmental and energy advantages. «We believe that the completion of this market will mark the end of southeast European countries’ isolation, and will secure mutual cooperation and reinforce conditions of peace, stability and economic development in the broader region,» Sioufas said.