In Brief

Croatia in final EU stretch; Albania told it must wait BRUSSELS (Reuters) The European Union told Croatia yesterday that its negotiations to join the bloc had entered their «final» stage, while chiding Turkey for its failure to improve relations with Cyprus. In its annual report on countries lining up to join the bloc, the European Commission also recommended Montenegro be granted EU candidate status, but deferred opening talks with that country due to concerns over the rule of law there. The report made clear the Commission’s concern over corruption and crime in candidate countries and widespread problems with upholding media freedom. The report said Albania should also wait before making progress toward EU integration. Regarding Turkey, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said Ankara should urgently meet its obligations toward Cyprus. The European Union did not give Croatia a date for completing talks or joining the 27-member bloc because it wants the former Yugoslav state to provide more evidence that it is serious about fighting corruption and coming to terms with the legacy of war. Bank of Cyprus profits dip but on course for goal Bank of Cyprus Pcl, the biggest bank on the eastern Mediterranean island, said nine-month profit fell 6 percent after increasing provisions for bad loans. Net income dropped to 248 million euros ($345.2 million) in the nine months ended September 30 from 265 million euros a year earlier, the Nicosia-based lender said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Excluding the provisions, profit would have totaled 512 million euros. Bank of Cyprus, which also has operations in Greece, Russia, Australia, Ukraine, Romania and the UK, reiterated a 2010 profit forecast of 300 million euros to 400 million euros with a positive contribution from all of its markets. Income from lending rose 25 percent to 768 million euros. Interest income from Cyprus climbed 19 percent to 387 million euros, while in Greece it gained 29 percent to 230 million euros. In Russia, interest income advanced 70 percent to 86 million euros. (Bloomberg) Pipeline hitch A planned pipeline to transport Russian oil from Bulgaria to Greece could pose a threat to the environment, the Environment Ministry in Sofia said yesterday. Just days before Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was scheduled to visit Bulgaria to discuss the project, the ministry said in a statement that it would ask for the plans to be reworked before giving them its approval. A key document on the possible environmental impact of the pipeline did not «list concrete measures for preventing leaks» in the Black Sea region of Burgas, the ministry complained. «There is no guarantee that in the case of accidents there will be no irreversible damage to the [Burgas] bay as a whole, its flora and fauna as well as tourism,» the ministry statement said. As part of the project, Russia will ship oil to Burgas in tankers which will then be fed into the 280-kilometer (174-mile) pipeline to the Greek port of Alexandroupoli. The Environment Ministry said it would give the Bulgarian-Russian-Greek joint stock company two months to rework the document before it could review it again. The ruling comes just four days ahead of a planned energy-focused visit to Sofia by the Russian prime minister. Sofia has already expressed reservations about the pipeline and the ruling could provide an argument for Bulgaria to pull out of the project completely. (AFP) S&B upbeat S&B Industrial Minerals SA, a Greek minerals company, is optimistic about 2011, betting on a recovery in Northern Europe and the US, Efthimios Vidalis, the company’s chief executive officer, said. «In the north of Europe, which is our biggest area of sales, we believe that the progress will be steady,» Vidalis said in a telephone interview yesterday. S&B has «strong» operations in Germany, Netherlands and France, he said. S&B is looking for opportunities to expand, as uncertainty in the market has created some «good value,» Vidalis said. (Bloomberg)