STABILITY PACT REMINDED OF ITS EXISTENCE
The Stability Pact for South East Europe, set up in 1999, reminded of its existence, may it be formal. An attempt at a resurrection of the German initiative, which was aimed to assist the Balkans' economic development after the war in Kosovo, was made during the ninth regional roundtable of the pact, held in Sofia, May 16-18. As could be expected, the event that took place in the Kempinski hotel in Sofia, found it difficult to produce particularly exciting news for the Balkan countries. The illusions that the Stability Pact (in which they anchored so much hope) would turn them into an economic oasis vanished back in the late 1990s. Generous promises of international financial donors and expectations for a large-scale construction of high-speed motorways and new bridges, today seem more like a chimera than a reality, although financing amounting to EUR6.5BN was ensured with the pact's mediation. Logically, most of the money (over 50%) came from the European Union (EU). The USA and Japan were also among the big sponsors. Erhard Busek, Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for South East Europe, underlined in his speech at the opening of the forum in Sofia, that the pact was not an institution, engaged in the mechanical collection of funds in order to distribute them among the individual governments. Today nobody talks about the external and political commitment of the countries that were the pact's initiators, he added. On the contrary, the main issue of the conversations during the ninth roundtable was the so-called regional property. In other words, the burden of the fulfilment of various initiatives in the region will be transferred from the pact's structures to the countries in the region. In Mr. Busek's words, that handing of the baton could not be done in a day, but within several years. At present, it is not very clear if such a transformation will speed up the implementation of big infrastructural projects, included in the quick-start projects. Perhaps, the most eloquent proof of the so far low efficiency of the efforts is the snapshot which Special Coordinator Busek took during his visit in Vidin. There he went to the bank of the Danube river where the second bridge between Bulgaria and Romania should be built. The Stability Pact could hardly be blamed for the huge delay of this project. On the contrary - without the efforts of Mr. Busek and of his predecessor, the German Bodo Hombach, the project would had hardly advanced at all. The establishment of regional centres, such as that for combating organized crime and drug trafficking in Buckarest, and the one in Skopje for overcoming problems connected with emigration, can be mentioned among the Stability Pact's assets. The Memorandum on a Common Energy Market in South East Europe, signed in November 2002, is one of the events to be remembered. However, the effects from it are yet to be felt. Before that the countries that signed the memorandum will have to achieve an agreement for closing a legally binding contract, which should be also ratified by the respective parliaments. The Memorandum for setting up a free trade zone between seven Balkan countries, Bulgaria among them, signed in Geneva in the summer of 2001, is still ambiguously taken in. Despite the numerous assurances that the signing of a network of bilateral agreements for liberalization of imports between the countries of the memorandum, shall not result in a delay of their integration to the EU, some of the countries still have reservations about the idea.