HELP YOURSELF TO BE HELPED BY BRUSSELS
The meeting of the presidents of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania brought back in mind the PanEuropean Corridor N8 (the so-called Silk Road). And put an end to all hopes that the project might be realised. This time again it didn't become clear when exactly and by what means will be constructed the various objects of it. The only thing which stands certain for now is the fact that the route from the Italian port Bari through Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria to Turkey cannot be fulfilled without the blessing of the West. Therefore in the approved general declaration all the presidents summoned EU, NATO, the USA and the international financial institutions to secure financial aid for the project. Nevertheless, such documents still continue to demonstrate only political good will. And if the presidents of the three Balkan countries fail to win the support of their own governments, the PanEuropean corridor will remain just a dream. So it's worth reminding the old Bulgarian saying (though reread in brand new context): Help yourself to be helped by... Brussels.The Silk Road or the so-called East-Western Corridor is the last of the ten PanEuropean routes which were defined as of greatest priority at the Helsinki summit in 1997. On the territory of the three countries have to be constructed 1,270 km of first-rate road network, 960 km of railroads, an oil pipeline (Bourgas - Vliora) and a high-voltage power line. Experts estimate that at least EUR2.2BN will be needed for the project to be fulfilled which sum is obviously unaffordable for any of the three countries. All hopes are now centred on Italy which on July 1 overtook the chairmanship of EU. The Italian ambassador in Skopje Giorgio Marini is rumoured to have assured Parvanov, Trajkovski and Moisiu that during its mandate Rome would make special efforts to support the construction of the corridor.Good intentions, however, are one thing and reality - quite another.At the moment out of the 360 km route to be completed on Albanian territory only 20 km are ready. There are almost no roads in the country and the electrified railroad network is long 36 km all told - from the capital Tirana to the Southern town of Elbasan. Hardly even the Italian freely launched EUR23MN and the promised army of soldiers - builders to be placed in the section Lushna - Fior will suffice. The situation in Macedonia doesn't look more promising at all. Much is being commented about the importance of the East-Western corridor crossing the Macedonian territory from Kafasan to Deve Bair, but far less is being done. Only that memorandums are being periodically signed. Macedonia intends to construct (that is to widen and almost reconstruct) only 60 km of road - from Gostivar to Tetovo and from there to the capital Skopje. And this is only one third of the Macedonian section of the route. In the last three years over EUR109MN have been planned to be spent on construction (about EUR40MN from the state budget and EUR70MN from foreign crediting), yet nothing has still been done. Only EUR10MN of the sum are already missing and according to the Macedonian press have been spent on the construction of several luxurious mensions in upper-end Skopje districts or on feeding someone's bank accounts.Bulgaria has the largest part of the route on its territory (52% of the road and 55% of the railroad networks). The greatest part of the necessary infrastructure there has been constructed and put in use long time ago. By the way the survey of the three presidents was started exactly at Gueshevo Checkpoint. There the new Bulgarian-Macedonian customs, the reconstructed railroad station and the borderline railroad tunnel (uncompleted by the Macedonian side) have been standing useless for five years. Only 2.5 km need to be built to the no man's land. The Bulgarian road section from the corridor is also in fairly good condition. The Trakia highway has reached Stara Zagora, the Bulgarian-Turkish border is reached through first-rate road and the railroads are fully electrified. The project for construction of the intersystem 400V power line Chervena Mogila - Dubovoi (Macedonia) is also in advanced stage of construction (according to the bilateral agreements between Bulgaria and Macedonia).Many analysts comment that Greek interests can be smelled out of the sluggish completion of Eurocorridor N8. Athens has already come up with alternative to bypass Macedonia (and Bulgaria to some extent) through the Igumenitsa - Aleksandrupolis route which is planned to be ready for the 2004 Olympic Games. Hardly Brussels will launch money for the construction of the Silk Road in case only 100 km in the south Greece offers the alternative version of the East-Western path.