Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday urged neighboring Balkan countries to accelerate their pace of reform in order to come closer to the European Union, but that they must rely primarily on their own efforts. «Reforms are the only responsible and visionary option for the development of the countries of the region but the solutions to the problems of each country must originate in themselves,» he told a meeting in Athens of finance ministers of the 10 countries participating in the process of cooperation in Southeastern Europe. «The efforts of Southeastern European countries to approach the EU cannot be substituted by the collective efforts we are developing in the framework of inter-Balkan cooperation. They can, however, be assisted, complemented and strengthened,» he added. The prime minister’s remarks are interpreted, on the one hand, as a confirmation of Greek support for Balkan neighbors’ course toward the EU but, on the other, obviously contained an indirect reminder of Greece’s aspirations to play a leading role in the region. This is obviously reflected in his reference to the economic aid which this country is offering to neighbors and the increasing Greek investment in them. «Greek investment in the broader geographic area exceeds 8 billion euros. More than 3,500 Greek firms and 700 branches of Greek banks are active in the Balkan countries,» he said. Karamanlis called on neighboring governments to «make a leap in economic growth.» «We are a market of about 140 million people, in which we can and must expand cooperation in trade, energy infrastructure, transport, tourism, telecommunications, capital markets, attracting investment and structural reforms,» he said. Speaking at the same meeting, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said that if the countries of Southeastern Europe manage to cooperate they can achieve «a miracle.» The key to any such success is a combination of policies aiming at a stable macroeconomic environment, a strong outward-looking attitude and closer economic integration. Alogoskoufis said finance ministers in the region are in discussions aiming at the formation of a common platform of rules for their respective stock markets.