ECONOMY

Regional electricity market seen as a tool for growth

Greece yesterday took a crucial step toward making itself the energy hub of southeastern Europe when it signed a memorandum of understanding with seven other countries in the region designed to integrate the regional electricity market with the European Union’s internal energy market. Energy ministers from Greece, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Yugoslavia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Romania, together with a UN representative for Kosovo yesterday signed the MoU in Athens. The European Commission and the Stability Pact for southeast Europe were non-participating sponsors of the initiative while Italy, Hungary and Turkey were observers. In addition to bringing the regional electricity market closer to the EU energy system, the accord also aims to reconstruct the western Balkans electricity network, damaged after the wars of the last decade. Calling it «a first step toward bounded cooperation,» Loyola de Palacio, transport and energy commissioner, said the MoU is part of the Commission’s strategy of creating an integrated energy market in all member states. The accord, which is modelled on the EU’s revised electricity directive, recommends that countries open up their electricity markets by 2005. Regulatory bodies and transmission system operators should be set up by June 2003 and distribution system operators by January 2005. De Palacio said the pact underscored a new perception of the Balkan countries. «We no longer can regard the countries of this region as transit countries for the passage of raw materials to the European Union. We have to replace that vision with one of extension of the freedoms of the internal market and the inclusion and integration of neighboring markets into our own,» she said. She said the electricity initiative would be extended to the gas market, with the Commission expected to come up with proposals by June 2003. The creation of a common energy market will ensure cheap, clean and sufficient supplies for Greece as well as provide a boost to economic growth, Development Minister Akis Tsochodzopoulos said. «With the cooperation of the EU and international bodies, the regional electricity market should be viewed as a dynamic development tool for the region,» he said. Early this year, the Greek government announced plans to invest 16 billion euros over the next eight years to ensure its dominance of the energy market in the Balkans. The construction of a Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline and a trans-Balkan oil pipeline, a Greek-Italian undersea gas cable and upgraded energy links with neighboring countries are expected to play a key role in realizing the goal.