(To Vima, 13 January, 2002)
The introduction of the euro marks the beginning of a new era for Southeastern Europe as now more than ever before the countries of the region are realizing that they must work very hard to reach European Union standards. Recognition of the euro as legal tender in Montenegro and Kosovo is indicative not only of the Balkan countries problems, but also of their strong desire to become part of the monetary union and an integral part of the EU. Indeed, Greek banks stand to benefit considerably from the EU member-countries change over from old currencies to the euro. In addition to this a great opportunity has arisen for Greece, as it is the only country in the region which is part of the euro zone. It is the stated aim of our neighbouring countries to join European institutions, and Greece is in a position to act as a channel of communication between these countries and the European Union and is indeed already doing so to a certain extent. Public authorities and business circles are gradually coming to realize this. Within the next six weeks the Prime Minister Mr. Simitis will visit Bulgaria and Romania in an attempt to boost these countries European agendas as well as Greek initiatives to improve their standing with European institutions. This same policy has already brought results in the case of FYROM, where Greek companies have invested millions of euros and are now in a powerful position.
In the past, the interest Greece showed in the Balkans sprang from on-going questions of security and the threat these posed to this country, whereas today the focus is on economic factors. The Balkans constitute a relatively untapped market and their proximity makes it possible to monitor the management of resources and investment programmes. In addition to this, similarity in policies and attitudes to business facilitates transactions as there are no cultural obstacles to be overcome; a problem which investors from Western Europe often face. It is no coincidence that the governments of Balkan countries have shown greater faith in Greek, state owned companies like OTE and ELPE than in international communications and energy giants. The same is true of private sector companies like Intracom, Technodomiki, Biohalko and Delta. The positive reception given to the statement made by the Minister of National Economy N. Christodoulakis concerning the further development of Greek state owned companies (e.g. DEH) in the Balkan region is typical of the new climate.
The opportunity which has arisen in connection with talks prior to membership and EU plans for support concerns Greece as a whole, both financially and politically. Participation in major projects, many of which are funded by the EU, is not only lucrative for the companies involved, but also guarantees the harmonious co-existence of Greece and its neighbouring countries, and strengthens Greeces position in the region. [ ]
The challenge Greece faces is great. Greek participation in the single European currency constitutes a pledge of economic stability and strengthens the countrys international image. But it is crucial that management of the benefits deriving from this should not be left to fate. On the contrary, it can and must prove useful in the stabilization and development of the Balkan region as a whole, a region which is fast becoming Western oriented, and of course in boosting Greeces presence on the international scene.