STABILITY PACT GIVES UP SOFIA-SKOPJE RAILROAD
The Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe Erhard Busek cooled Bulgaria's wishes for financing the construction of the Sofia-Skopje railway, the BANKER weekly learned.The former Austrian vice-chancellor hosted the annual meeting of the representatives of the Stability Pact's member-countries, held in Brussels during the week. According to Foreign Ministry sources, Mr. Busek explained the organisation's refusal to assist financially the above-mentioned section of Transeuropean Corridor No 8 by the motive that investment banks were not interested in the rehabilitation of railroads, especially the construction of new ones.The news came after in the beginning of September the Transport Minister Plamen Petrov and his counterparts from Italy, Albania and Macedonia signed in Bari a Memorandum on the Development of European Corridor No 8. Since 1998 Sofia has been unsuccessfully trying to squeeze financial support for the construction of the 440-km-long electric transmission network and the railway to Skopje. About a year ago the two countries' foreign ministers Solomon Passy and Slobodan Casule even signed a letter, demanding political and financial aid for the project from international institutions, including NATO, the EU and the Stability Pact. But none of the international donors heard the call of Sofia and Skopje.However, the bad news for Bulgaria from Belgium's capital do not end here. According to excellently informed sources, the implementation of the idea for establishing an energy center in Sofia, financed by the Stability Pact, is problematic too. The idea was launched in the beginning of 2002 by Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and met Erhard Busek's support. The proposal was also backed during the roundtable on economic issues within the framework of the Stability Pact, held in Sofia in end-May 2002. The final decision if Sofia would become an energy centre is to be made in November 2002 at the meeting of energy ministers of the Stability Pact members in Athens. A memorandum on liberalization of the electricity market in Southeastern Europe, including the establishment of an energy centre, is expeceted to be signed then, too. According to information of the BANKER weekly, Erhard Busek has personnaly insisted that Bulgaria's proposal should be included in the agenda of the meeting in the Greek capital. But Foreign Ministry sources said that during his recent visit in Sofia Mr. Busek shared with Mr. Passy his anxiety that Bulgaria has not yet presented the technical parameters of the energy centre project.In the beginning of September the National Coordinatior of the Stability Pact for Bulgaria Vladimir Filipov announced at a special press conference that the Energy Minister Milko Kovachev had sent a letter to his European counterparts, lobbying in favour of the establishment of an energy centre in Sofia. However, Bulgaria has less than two months time to move the emphasis from the political aspect of the problem to expert work. This, of course, does not at all mean that political efforts for ensuring diplomatic support till the meeting in Athens should be dropped. According to inofficial information, problems for Bulgaria's cause may come from Serbia, which is quite jealous of picking Sofia for a location of the energy centre. The autumn of 2002 will be also decisive for financing another important infrastructural project - the highway Sofia-Nis. The construction of the section on Bulgarian territory will cost EUR147MN. The problem here is that Serbia has not yet prepared and presented its feasibility study in Brussels. Therefore, the project might lose its chances of being considered by the Committee for Infrastructural Projects with the Stability Pact at the meeting, scheduled for November in Brussels.Thus, almost three years after the noisily proclaimed beginning of Germany's initiative for the Balkans' reconstruction, Bulgarian projects are still waiting. It's cold comfort that the beginning of the construction of the second bridge on the Danube in the autumn of 2003 already seems more than certain. According to rumours, the Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact has even promised to personally turn the first sod. But previous experience prompts that surprises may be expected even in the last moment.