NEWS

Greece’s Balkan plan

SOFIA – On a one-day visit to Sofia yesterday, where he was the only foreign leader to attend the inauguration of Bulgaria’s new president, Georgi Parvanov, Prime Minister Costas Simitis unveiled Greece’s plan to assist in the economic reconstruction of the Balkans. The plan, which is to be applied between 2002 and 2006, is expected to cost 550 million euros, or 187.5 billion drachmas. These funds are to be spent on construction projects, investments and feasibility reports in Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Romania. The legislation has to be passed by Parliament in order for the funds to be withdrawn. Greece’s Foreign Ministry will be in charge of distributing the funds, in cooperation with the Finance Ministry. The money will be drawn from the program for bilateral developmental cooperation and assistance, the regular state budget, the public works budget and other sources. Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Zafeiropoulos, who was in charge of Greece’s international trade, resigned on Monday because of what he called complete disagreement with head minister George Papandreou over the Balkan reconstruction plan. Simitis yesterday backed Papandreou completely, saying that Zafeiropoulos’s view «was not the view shared by Mr Papandreou and myself.» Simitis said that Zafeiropoulos wanted a stricter supervisory framework which was more «bureaucratic,» while he and Papandreou wanted one that was «flexible and decisive.» The legislation will also allow for the funding of non-governmental agencies based in or operating in the recipient countries. The delay in the Balkan reconstruction plan, which was announced with great fanfare by Greece in 1999, has damaged Greece’s credibility in the region. Speaking in the presence of his Bulgarian counterpart, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Simitis tried to cast some of the blame on recipient countries. He said that Greece wanted to fund specific projects on which studies had been carried out and which were in the construction stage but that nothing specific had been presented by recipient countries. Simitis held talks with Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and President Parvanov on the whole range of Greek-Bulgarian issues. Among the most important, were the proposed Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline and Greek and EU objections to the continued operation of outdated reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant. «We have made a firm commitment to shut down Units 1 and 2 of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant by the end of this year and we’ll do our best to meet the deadline no matter how much this may cost us,» the Bulgarian prime minister said. «We shall meet the deadlines for Units 3 and 4 also, because such commitments are key on an international level.»