ECONOMY

Deputy minister’s resignation lays bare government’s Balkan policy

The resignation yesterday of Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Zafeiropoulos seems to have brought to the surface serious flaws in the implementation of the government’s much-publicized foreign policy in the Balkans. The delays which have been threatening with failure the so-called National Reconstruction Plan (NRP) for the former Yugoslavia and the countries still affected by the continuing crisis in one way or another appear to be only one aspect of the piecemeal character and lack of coordination of Greek policy planning. The picture now prevailing in Balkan capitals of Greek foreign policy is not at all flattering and Athens is in danger of losing an important tool of economic diplomacy, as NRP has evolved into a Gordian knot despite Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s clear instruction last summer for «the issue to be closed as soon as possible.» Thus, the premier is going to Bulgaria tomorrow without the advantages of an NRP «card,» which provided for the disbursement of 180 billion drachmas over five years, creating high expectations among Greek entrepreneurs and Balkan countries for the realization of important projects. Three years after the initial law was drafted, the document, according to sources, underwent further embellishment last month, but was again returned to Zafeiropoulos who insists on handling the matter alone. Zafeiropoulos was deputy economy minister before the reshuffle last October when he moved to the foreign ministry together with the section of foreign trade and the corps of commercial attaches, according to international practice. It seems that this is when the problems began. Well-informed sources say that Zafeiropoulos insisted that the particular section function autonomously within the foreign ministry, thereby causing the expected reaction from his superior, George Papandreou, and the diplomatic corps. As Kathimerini reported on January 3, Zafeiropoulos, despite not having received a clear carte blanche as he wished, went ahead late last month and signed bilateral financing agreements with Balkan countries for various local projects, although he had refused to disburse various sums promised while in the Economy Ministry. One result of the prevailing confusion is that commercial attaches are said to be in a state of near-nervous breakdown, having their hands tied on crucial issues. The chairman of the Association of Industrialists of Northern Greece, Dimitris Symeonidis, is particularly critical of the situation. «Export credits to the countries in the region are in danger of being lost. This very important initiative by Greece in the Balkans must, at last, become a field for collaboration and coordination of the public and private sectors. It, therefore, is a dire necessity that NRP be immediately implemented and managed from Thessaloniki, where many international organizations active in the Balkans are based,» he said. But perhaps an even more important negative fallout of the disjointed policy is that relations between Athens and Belgrade have reached the worst possible point since the last days of Milosevic in power. The Serbian side appears completely disappointed, charging the Greeks with indifference in implementing its promises. Yugoslav Public Works Minister Dragoslav Sumaric came to Athens three times last year to discuss the participation of Serbian companies in big public projects – as promised before Milosevic’s demise – but, according to the Serbian press, everyone seemed to ignore the purpose of his visit.(Combined reports) DRY CARGO