INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE BALKANS DEPENDS ON EACH COUNTRY'S OWN INTERESTS
The Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier, Otto von Bismarck said in the middle of the 19 century. The Iron Chancellor and the rest of the Great Powers leaders did their best to prevent future unanimity among the countries freed from the power of the Ottoman Empire in order to divide the peninsula in several spheres of impact. Today, at the start of the 21 century, the situation should be different. All Balkan countries have a common goal - to become members of the European Union and NATO. But either because of historically accumulated contradictions, ambitions to be leaders in the region, or for other reasons, collaboration among them is beginning very slowly and with difficulty.-------The lamentable condition of regional infrastructural projects appears the most eloquent proof for that. It became clear during the eighth international conference in Sofia dedicated to the construction of regional infrastructure in the Balkans and the European integration that more than EUR10BN has been poured for that purpose in the region for the past six years. EUR6BN has been launched under the Stability Pact and EUR4BN - through loans from the European Investment Bank. Neverthelessthe condition of the roads and railways on the peninsulais not flourishing at all. The missing or poorly constructed infrastructure is among the main reasons for the fragmentariness of the Balkan political, economic and cultural space and for its isolation from the rest of Europe, Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov said at the opening of the conference. His predecessor Zhelyu Zhelev was even more explicit: The condition of the roads in the region is lamentable, and without modern infrastructure the Balkans look like an old man's organism in which life is hardly flickering because the blood vessels are blocked.In fact, statistical data appear the most convincing indicator. According to a research by the World Bank office in Macedonia, a truck spends approximately 98 hours at cross-border points along the road Istanbul-Sofia-Nis-Belgrade-Zagreb to Western Europe. The financial institution recommended that Bulgaria and Romania develop the European transport corridors and railway transport, but the situation is not different in the other countries in the Balkans. It is of great importance that a network of highways and railroads be built in Eastern Europe until 2010. It will facilitate the circulation of passengers and goods, Rula Elefteriadu from Greece's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.However, the Greek representatives diplomatically forgot to mention that it was Athens's policy that delayed the construction of one of Balkans' most important transport corridors, number 8. The road was planned to connect Italy with Asia through Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. But because of the alternative Via Ignatia highway Greece imposed a veto on this corridor and opposed its implementation. As a result, the corridor lost the competition against the road passing through Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Ukraine, the Italian expert Emanuela Del Re said.Our top priority is to build Via Ignatia until 2008 in order to connect Eastern and Western Greece. Among the other important projects are the linking of Thessaloniki with all big capitals in the Balkans, as well as the establishment of a combined transport corridor Thessaloniki-Bourgas-Varna leading to the Asian countries, Elefteriadu admitted, too.The collaboration among the Balkan countries started to slip also regarding the oil infrastructureAs the projects for evading the Bosphorus - Bourgas-Alexandroupolis and Bourgas-Vlyora make progress, rivalry between them grows more severe. Passions run high on Bulgarian territory, too. After several hitches the road Bourgas-Alexandroupolis was launched successfully. The oil pipeline is particularly important, because it corresponds to the principle that there should be roads alternative to the Bosphorus for the export of oil. Besides, the road is short - between 256 and 279 kilometres, which makes it extremely attractive. And the pipe crosses only two countries which are members of the EU and that is a guarantee for its safe exploitation, Greece's Deputy Minister of Development Georgios Salagudis underlined. He added that the operating oil pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan was not competitive to the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis one. The Greek politician confirmed that there was readiness for detailed examination and construction work and that the building of the equipment would cost between EUR778MN and EUR831MN. Seventy per cent of the money will be provided through bank credits and the owning companies will pay the remaining 30 per cent. The oil pipeline will be commissioned in 2008. Still it remained unclear what the Greeks think of the far more perspective road passing through Macedonia and reaching the Albanian port of Vlyora.The future development of the oil transportation through the Balkans will serve the interests not only of this region. That's why the economic factor is the main one to be considered when choosing roads that evade the Bosphorus. It is of great importance that there are big tankers to rely on for the oil transportation, said Edward Ferguson, Head of the AMBO project corporation executive bureau, implying that the port of Alexandroupolis was quite shallow. But he was far more direct in front of the Macedonian A1 television. The AMBO road to Vlyora will be built before Bourgas-Alexandroupolis. There are people saying that we complement one another and that there is enough oil for both pipelines. I think that only one will be chosen, Mr. Ferguson declared.There are also problems in the establishment of the regional energy marketA single electricity and natural gas market operating according to the rules of the EU is about to be built in Southeast Europe. The profit will be unquestionable - customs duties and import and export fees will fall, prices will gain stability, clear rules will be created, and the level of risk will decrease. Nevertheless, the memorandum for its establishment remains just a project. After several delays it had to be signed by the end of next month. But as far as the BANKER weekly learned, there will be another delay - this time until the autumn.The implementation of joint projectsseems almost utopian. Among them are the establishment of a free-trade zone in the Balkans, of a regional air company, etc. The lack of cooperation among the Balkan countries resulted in the failure of a number of important projects of mutual interest. One of them was the idea for establishment of a joint air carrier, the Stability Pact national coordinator Milen Keremedchiev said. There is hardly a participant in the Sofia conference who doubts that in order to make Southeast Europe part of the bridge connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific, a very long way remains to be walked. And that relations among the Balkan countries should be based on mutual economic profit and understanding and not on the specific interests of each country.