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21 May, 2002
The Greek government on Monday pledged to contribute to the drafting of an integrated plan for the development of SE Europe and promote it in the EU, the Stability Pact or the Zagreb Process summit.
Addressing the opening of the two-day 9th Thessaloniki Forum in the northern Greek capital, Greece's national economy and finance minister Nikos Christodoulakis said that the goal of the above initiative was to bring before the international organizations a specific proposal containing prioritized and cost-budgeted actions that would contribute to ''transferring interest to developmental matters''.
The Plan, he added, ''should incorporate the priorities of each country and seek fields of cooperation and mutual benefit''.
Christodoulakis said such an integrated plan would be instrumental in tackling the main cause of the region's delayed development, which he attributed to the region's break-up into relatively small economies, which did not enable the operation of an extensive regional trade and investments, nor allowed the development of scale economies in production, thus discouraging foreign investments.
SE Europe needed to advance cross-border trade and regional cooperation, the minister said, adding that the European Union could substantially assist the cause of Balkan development given that the people's of the region shared future EU accession as their common vision and target.
Christodoulakis said that the EU should immediately open up its markets to imports from the Balkans, and this liberalization should also include the industrial products subject to certain non-tax-related obstacles, while it should also assist the Balkan countries in adapting their production to the demanding technical and hygiene requirements of the EU.
Addressing the same conference, Macedonia-Thrace minister George Paschalidis noted that although the reconstruction of the SE European countries had begun, there was still a long road ahead and greater funding generosity was required, while the process of those countries' EU accession needed to be speeded up.
Paschalidis warned that a possible reduction of interest in the region's reconstruction, particularly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US and the ''bloody April 2002 in the Middle East'', would be an ''unforgivable mistake''.
''If we give in to the 'half-finished syndrome', the hot spots will be rekindled, resulting in our (the region's) entering once again the vicious circle of instability,'' he warned.
Commenting on the slow course of Reconstruction to date, he said that ''the picture of the past three years obliges us to think of ways to 'reconstruct' the Reconstruction''.
He said that the many sides involved in the Reconstruction had differing ideas and definitions in their minds when speaking of Reconstruction, thus resulting in the deficiency of resources, the unequal ratio between public and private sector, the inconsistency among the various actions, and the time-consuming decision-taking process.
ND leader voices criticism against gov't on Balkan reconstruction plan:
''Every year the famous Greek plan was announced, only to make every word about the Greek economic aid a cold Balkan joke,'' main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Costas Karamanlis said on Monday, addressing the 9th Thessaloniki Forum organized by the Union of Northern Greece's Industries (SBBE) and the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce.
He criticized the government's Balkan policy, saying that it could not be convincing about Greece's vision, it could not move in open horizons, it could not show effectiveness, it could not respond to the tempos demanded by the new era and even more so by the new reality in this region.
Karamanlis also spoke of the ''inability'' of government officials to cooperate, ''which resulted in delays'', adding that consequently there were complaints from neighboring countries.
''We lost time, credibility, we missed opportunities during a critical period for the future of the Balkans,'' he said, forecasting that Greece would not be ready to pay out funds in June, as was announced.
Concerning the European Union's actions in the region, Karamanlis said that it has the obligation to support more actively the efforts of peoples in the region for development, progress and democracy, to help so that there may be immediate and solid results.
''The strategy and the aid of the EU should aim unwaveringly at supporting cooperation between all the states of the region,'' he stressed, adding that the states of southeastern Europe need to respond faster, with more boldness and flexibility to the challenges before them.
Greece a model for its Balkan neighbors, U.S. ambassador says:
''Greece is the model for its neighbors,'' U.S. Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller said on Monday at the 9th Thessaloniki Forum, organized by the Union of Northern Greece's Industries (SBBE) and the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce.
He called Greece the engine of the Balkans and welcomed the Greek initiative for the restructuring of the Balkans, also lauding the agreement signed between Greece and Turkey regarding the illegal trafficking of people.
He also stressed the need for the continuation of efforts in the battle against organized crime in the region.
The Ambassadors of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Ljupco Arsovski and of Romania Caius Traian Dragomir, as well as Bulgaria's Deputy Finance Minister M. Kerementzev spoke of their countries' economies and presented positive indexes of development, while adding that their governments were ready to present specific programs for funding by the Greek Balkan reconstruction plan.
On his part, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos stressed that the Olympic Games were an occasion for the modernization of infrastructures in Greece, adding that the budget for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games stood at 4.5 billion euros, of which 50 per cent was to be spent in interventions outside Athens.
Source: Athens News Agency