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15 November, 2000
National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and his Bulgarian counterpart Petar Zotev inaugurated on Tuesday the new aluminium frame plant of Steelmet S.A., an ETEM SA subsidiary.
Greece based ETEM, member of the Viohalco Group, invested 12 million dollars in renovating and refitting the existing plant, which will employ 195 technical and administrative personnel.
The plant was fitted with the capacity to produce 7,000 tons of aluminium frames, used in the manufacture of doors and windows, which will be sold in the domestic market and will be exported to Greece, Italy and central European countries.
Papantoniou noted that Greece would support such initiatives setting aside 62 million dollars in subsidies for the further reconstruction of infrastructures in Bulgaria.
Papantoniou, who heads a delegation of ministers, Parliament deputies and businessmen, began a Balkan tour with his visit to Yugoslavia on Sunday and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
He is being accompanied on his visit by Minister of Macedonia and Thrace George Paschalidis, Deputy National Economy Minister Yiannis Zapheiropoulos, deputies, senior economy ministry officials and 43 businessmen from all sectors of the economy.
Kostov: Greece a strategic partner for Bulgaria:
As the only European Union and NATO member in the Balkans, Greece is a strategic partner for Bulgaria and the first country to provide specific financial backing for cooperation and development in SE Europe, Bulgarian prime minister Ivan Kostov was quoted as saying during talks in Belgrade with visiting Greek national economy and finance minister Yiannos Papantoniou.
Papantoniou met with Kostov Tuesday in Sofia on the second leg of a Balkan tour after talks with the Yugoslav leadership in Belgrade on Monday.
According to the director of the Bulgarian government's public relations and information department, Albena Ivrailova, Kostov told Papantoniou that Bulgaria particularly appreciated the fact that Greece was the first country to undertake an initiative to provide specific economic support as active proof of its desire to contribute to economic cooperation and development in SE Europe.
Kostov further expressed satisfaction with the "dynamic cooperation" between Greece and Bulgaria, adding that the Balkan Reconstruction Plan approved by the Greek government a year ago would without doubt contribute to further development of that cooperation, Ivrailova told a press briefing after the meeting, which was also attended by Bulgarian deputy premier and finance minister Petar Jotev and Greece's minister for Macedonia-Thrace George Paschalidis and other officials.
Greece was Bulgaria's third largest trade partner from among the EU member states, and the fourth largest foreign investor in the country, Jotev said after the meeting, adding that the Bulgarian side was looking forward to the outcome of a meeting later Tuesday in Sofia between the representatives of 40 major Greek businesses, who are accompanying Papantoniou, and a number of Bulgarian enterprises.
Jotev made special mention of the dynamic presence of Greek capital in the Bulgarian banking sector.
Greece's Balkan Reconstruction Plan was also the focus of talks Papantoniou and Paschalidis had late Monday night with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov.
Stoyanov said after the consultations that the joint developmental plans for upgrading infrastructure were "the best thing that could happen" for improving the situation in the sensitive Balkan region.
After also stressing Greece's role as the only EU member country in the Balkans, Stoyanov expressed certainty that Athens "will be able to convince Western Europe that a speedy reconstruction of the Balkans is in the interests of the western European countries".
"Let us hope that they will remember the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II," Stoyanov said, referring to the US aid program that provided billions of dollars to war-ravaged European countries to help them regain the economic strength sapped by the prolonged conflict.
Greek and Bulgarian experts were continuing Tuesday a discussion of specific developmental plans in Bulgaria, for which Greece has pledged 62 million dollars under its Balkan Reconstruction Plan, Papantoniou told reporters.
Expressing satisfaction at being in Bulgaria on an official visit aimed at boosting economic cooperation, Papantoniou said that "many ties and common points in the past, tradition and our history unite us...We have impeccable political relations. It is the duty of both governments to reinforce those bonds and consolidate our cooperation and friendship on a firm foundation".
"And I believe that the economic sector provides precisely the firm foundation on which our reinforced cooperation will be built," the Greek economy minister said.
Papantoniou said Greece saw its cooperation with Bulgaria as an "inalienable part of its efforts to spearhead the development of cooperation in the wider Balkan region today, where very auspicious conditions arise after the prevalence of democracy in Yugoslavia".
"Looking to the future, when both our countries will belong to United Europe and will be linked with a common currency after Bulgaria's accession to EMU, Greece will continue to dynamically exercise its influence for acceleration of Bulgaria's course to EU accession," Papantoniou said.
According to Ivrailova, Kostov asked for Greek premier Costas Simitis' intercession for abolition of the visa requirement so that Bulgarian citizens could freely travel to the EU countries, a requirement that has been abolished for most of the countries slated to join the EU in its next enlargement.
The visa issue, Ivrailova said, was a problem that was "intensely preoccupying the Bulgarian political world and public opinion in view of the upcoming meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Nice".
Papantoniou replied that Greece actively supported Bulgaria on this matter, adding he would inform Simitis of Kostov's verbal request.
Apart from the dynamic initiative for economic growth, stability and prosperity in the wider region undertaken by the Greek government with its Balkan Reconstruction Plan, another guarantee for the radical upgrading of bilateral economic relations was the immense interest displayed by Greek entrepreneurs for investments in Bulgaria, where the economic reforms of recent years have created an appropriate climate of stability and recovery, Papantoniou continued.
In that respect, the Greek minister also expressed satisfaction that with the imminent establishment of the joint venture "Inter-Balkan Oil Pipeline", the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project, which was of great importance to Greece and Bulgaria, "has entered the final stretch".
The pipeline, designed to transport Russian crude oil from the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas to Greece's NE Aegean outlet of Alexandroupolis, has long been a strategic goal of Greece, Bulgaria and Russia, although repeated disagreements over terms have kept the project confined to engineering designs. Russia would have to transport crude oil to Burgas via tankers disembarking from its eastern Black Sea ports, mainly Novorossyisk.
Papantoniou also said that the Drama-Goce Delcev crossing, the first of three new checkpoints to be opened on the Greek-Bulgarian border, would be ready by the end of 2001, and the other two, at Xanthi-Roudozem and Komotini-Kerzali, would follow.
He further said that Greece's state-run telecoms Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) would take part in next month's international tender for a license to develop a second GSM mobile telephone network in Bulgaria, Ivrailova told reporters. Also, important political results for the acceleration of cooperation in the Balkans were expected after upcoming visits by Stoyanov and the new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to Athens in early December.
"The reality is that Greece was the first country to announce a Balkan Reconstruction Plan, and remains the only country to have done so among the EU members, which still have not followed suit. It was therefore agreed, with the opportunity of the visits of Presidents Stoyanov and Kostunica to Athens in early December to stress the need for more interest on the part of the European countries for the inflow of capital into the Balkans in order to speed up the recovery of their economies," Papantoniou said. "Greece has paved the way. Greece has set the example. Let the others follow it," Papantoniou added.
Source: Athens News Agency