OPINION

Balkans, the next field of expansion?

The most important agreement to come out of the ninth meeting of heads of state and government from the Southeast Europe Cooperation Process, or SEECP, was probably the gathering itself. Considering that the 10 leaders who met in the northern port city of Thessaloniki represent nations from what was formally dubbed the tinderbox of Europe – in other words, that they represent peoples who, until recently, fought against each other – can help us assess the progress in that corner of the old continent. The free-trade pacts signed at the Thessaloniki summit were yet another step forward. The main goals set there by the Greek presidency – meaning those of regional cooperation and eventual European Union membership – have been advanced with considerable success. The agreement on Kosovo demonstrates that governments are determined not to allow the abhorrent past to repeat itself. The establishment of free trade zones and the construction of a single high-speed railway network will bolster peaceful coexistence between the Balkan peoples and provide a tonic for the economies of the region. Thanks to its leading role in the area, Greece will have much to gain from promoting new infrastructure to be shared between these southeastern countries. Possessing the largest economy in the Balkan peninsula – and being the biggest investor in the area – will allow Greece to maintain its hegemonic position. But in order to succeed, Greece will need long-term planning and hard work. Greece is being presented with a strategic opportunity in the Balkans but the opportunity will be wasted if the country chooses to address it with minimum effort. The responsibility lies with the conservative administration. The Balkans could become our next field of expansion, but we will have to work especially hard for that to happen.