OPINION

Balkan prospects

Greece yesterday assumed the presidency of the Southeast Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP), the organization usually called the «Inter-Balkan cooperation.» The Greek presidency comes at a crucial time for the Balkans, especially since the area’s leaders are urging for a solution to the potentially explosive problems in Kosovo. The Greek leadership’s decision to highlight this issue has been a welcome one. Greece must use this opportunity for more than just pure political gain. It must also further its own economic cooperation with its partners. Since 1990, when Greece made economic expansion into the Balkans a major goal, conditions have certainly changed. There are still opportunities for considerable involvement and mutual benefits in neighboring countries. Romanian President Traian Basescu sounded optimistic about Greek-Balkan economic relations when he handed over the SEECP presidency to Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. Basescu recalled that Greeks had invested in Romania at a time when it required courage. Now, Greece is the third-largest foreign investor there. Unfortunately, this has not happened in all Balkan countries and the size of investments has not always translated into a corresponding benefit to national interests. Political disputes, especially the one with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), have eroded Greece’s initial advantage. However, Greek investments have been spasmodic, lacked organized planning, and spurred by short-term benefits that will be gained from a cheap work force rather than the goal of long-term involvement in Balkan economies. The current government appears to have realized this mistake and is trying to create a new state of affairs. There has clearly been a change of course. The economic aid program for the Balkans has been activated, with Greece actively deciding on the projects to be funded. There will be emphasis on those projects promoting bilateral transactions. The presidency of the SEECP provides an additional opportunity for Greece to make a concerted «opening to the Balkans.» That way, neighboring countries will benefit, and the Greek economy can increase its faltering export trade.