Black Sea nations say pipelines lead to Europe

Trade and energy officials from 12 Black Sea and Caucasus countries pledged in Komotini, northwestern Greece, on Saturday to expand ties with the European Union through the development of major energy networks, including new pipelines to Caspian Sea oil fields. «Everyone wins,» said Evripidis Stylianidis, Greece’s overseas trade minister at the end of four days of meetings. «Pipelines are good for the economy, for the environment, and for international development – and that helps peace and stability in the region.» Oil companies and regional governments are keen to find alternatives to shipping Caspian oil through Turkey’s busy Bosporus strait, already used to transport more than 50 million tons of oil a year. «There is a growing danger of an accident with the concentration of many ships in the strait,» Stylianidis said after the meetings in Komotini, hosted by the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation, a regional trade forum founded in 1992. «Energy via pipelines will be faster and cheaper, and will pose less environmental risk,» he said. In June, the new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is due to start operation, carrying Caspian oil 1760 kilometers (1,100 miles) across Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Additional projects are planned to link Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in neighboring Greece and Vlore, Albania. Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Ender Arat, said the Baku-Ceyhan project would start on time, despite reports of delays. «There were some construction delays in Georgia and other problems, but all of this has been resolved,» Arat said. He said a proposed pipeline across Turkey from the Black Sea port of Samsun to Ceyhan would be a cheaper option than planned Balkan ventures. But Greece’s Stylianidis said most proposed pipeline routes were not competitive, but complementary. «Every country proposes the route that serves its own interests,» he said. «There is a strong will of the governments involved to back the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project.» Greece passed the rotating six-month presidency of the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation to Moldova on Saturday. Representatives of the organization’s 12 members – Greece, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia-Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine – also signed a declaration pledging closer cooperation, in areas from energy and tourism to fighting organized crime and ties with the European Union. Part of that cooperation includes plans to connect regional electricity and natural gas networks across to Western Europe. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are already receiving EU assistance with financial aid and advice on market oriented reforms through the EU’s new Neighborhood Policy program.

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