NEWS

Energy to form firm basis for regional policy

Greece’s leading role in the region’s energy sector over the next few years is attracting strong interest from its neighbors. The construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline and the natural gas pipeline from Turkey – along with plans for similar projects with Italy – have put Greece at the forefront of energy policy. Greece’s role in this area could be boosted by a future four-way summit with Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania. Well-informed sources say Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov is floating a proposal for such a summit. The summit proposal could take a major step on the sidelines of a major forum on cultural interstate cooperation to be held in Varna, Bulgaria on May 20 and 21. Parvanov made references to these plans during his recent talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer. But Greek diplomatic sources said they did not know the plan’s details and had not been officially notified about it. According to sources in Sofia, Parvanov mentioned it in a recent informal meeting with Karolos Papoulias, Greece’s new president, in Thessaloniki a few weeks ago, although the president’s office in Athens denied this. Other sources say the Bulgarian president had already briefed Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis during a meeting in Bucharest on the sidelines of the recent South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit. In Ankara, Parvanov said the four-way conference could replace the old-style meetings that lined up Greece, Bulgaria and Romania at one table and Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania at another. Greece participated in the first three-way summit in 1998 at Delphi, and other meetings have followed annually for the country. These summits have focused on strengthening economic cooperation, speeding up regional infrastructure projects, and fighting terrorism and organized crime. Summits including Turkey have tackled similar issues. During the sixth tripartite meeting in Romania in June 2003, the agenda included an item on «establishing a regional energy market.» Since then, new developments have altered the region’s political map – particularly Romania’s imminent full entry into the European Union. Meanwhile, the SEECP has been upgraded and broadened to cover issues being faced by these countries. In Bucharest, Karamanlis said the current Greek presidency of the SEECP would emphasize these issues, and that a special meeting was being planned on the subject of «Inter-European Transport, Energy and Telecommunications.» According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos, Greece lays particular store by the SEECP. Greece is not averse to proposals for regional cooperation. It remains to be seen whether a four-party meeting will ultimately take place if Papoulias goes to Varna and what stance the Turkish president will also adopt.