WEF seeks greater EU aid, attention to Balkans reform

Greece plays host to a large gathering of political leaders, business people and opinion-makers from the Balkan region today and tomorrow as the Southeast Europe meeting of the World Economic Forum convenes. Both timing and location are deliberate, as the two-day gathering, the first of its kind, aims to use Greece’s current visibility as European Union president as a springboard to launch a collective Balkan appeal for greater cooperation with and help from the EU, up to and including eventual EU membership for more countries of this diverse but struggling region. So far only Cyprus and Slovenia are among the 10 countries joining the current 15 in 2004. The «meeting» in fact includes hundreds of participants from 31 countries throughout Southeastern Europe, including seven heads of state or government, in a series of round-table discussions focusing on issues such as investment and political risk, corruption and the brain drain. The sessions aim to generate ideas for specific, home-generated proposals for closer EU-Balkan ties; the hope is that the power of numbers, combined with ambitious reform plans, will draw greater EU attention. Recommendations will be put to the Zagreb-II Ministerial meeting, which will take place alongside next month’s EU summit in Thessaloniki. The World Economic Forum is an international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, best known for its midwinter gatherings of the influential in the resort of Davos. Over the past few years, especially since the bursting of the high-tech bubble, the WEF has made a concerted effort to reach beyond its wealthy, clubby origins and adopt targeted strategies along the lines of its ambitious, if amorphous, aim of «improving the state of the world.» Pushing for significant reforms and lobbying Europe for greater long-term commitment on dealing with realities and concerns right in its own backyard is high among these. The event is being co-chaired by noted investor and philanthropist George Soros and by National Bank of Greece Governor Theodoros Karatzas. Foreign Minister George Papandreou is a prominent supporter of the effort and for greater EU pre-accession aid to the region. Other participants include Bernard Kouchner, former UN head in Kosovo, writer/broadcaster Misha Glenny, and James Rubin, former US State Department spokesman. Director for Europe at the WEF is Ann Mettler.

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