14 February, 2007
Greece was a "factor of friendship, peace and cooperation" in the Balkans and a leading player in the process of integrating neighbouring markets in the wider European and world scene, President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias said on Tuesday.
He was addressing a Greek-Bulgarian business forum in Sofia with his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Purvanov on the second day of an official visit to Bulgaria.
Papoulias also underlined that equal participation of all the region's countries in "building a new Europe" was a strategic choice for Greece, while noting that EU accession was a catalyst that speeded up the passing of difficult but necessary reforms in political life, institutions and the economy.
"Our ambition is to create the necessary conditions for south-eastern Europe to be a region of stability, peace, economic cooperation and development, he added.
Both Papoulias and Purvanov underlined the importance of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, the final agreement for which is due to be signed in March, with Papoulias stressing that it would upgrade the geostrategic position of the two countries on energy routes and offer clear-cut diplomatic and economic advantages.
The two presidents also pointed out that significant areas of potential economic cooperation and investments remained unexploited between the two countries and that Bulgaria's entry into the EU created a more favourable environment for strengthening these relations.
Greece encourages economic penetration of Balkan markets by Greek business, while the business delegation that accompanied the Greek president to Bulgaria and will follow him to Romania on Wednesday includes some the Greece's largest companies in the banking, energy and construction sectors.
According to Papoulias, Greece was among the largest foreign investors in Bulgaria, both in terms of the number of investments and in terms of the capital invested in the Bulgarian market, which was the fourth most important for Greek exports. He said that Athens' target was to extend the range of products exchanged.
Purvanov, in his own address to the forum, stressed that Greece was a foreign policy priority for all the political forces in Bulgaria and that Greeks wanting to invest in Bulgaria will meet with understanding and support from the country's institutions.
He underlined that the country offered a secure environment for investments and was updating its legal framework for foreign investments following its entry into the EU.
The Greek president followed up his address at the business forum by meeting the Bulgarian National Assembly Chairman Georgi Pirinski and visits to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Sofia's Archaeological Museum.
Later on Tuesday he is scheduled to have a working dinner with Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev and receive the head of the National Movement Simeon II party, former Bulgarian monarch and premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
In the evening, accompanied by the Bulgarian president, Papoulias is to attend a concert by internationally renowned Greek pianist Dora Bakopoulou, accompanied by vocalists Tassos Christogiannopoulos and Elli Paspala.
Prospective investments by Greek businesses have so far dominated talks held in Sofia by Greek President Karolos Papoulias, who on Tuesday began the second day of an official visit to Bulgaria.
Ministers accompanying Papoulias said that the two sides were also moving toward the signature of a final agreement for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline between Greece, Bulgaria and Russia. The Greek side has proposed March 6-8 as a possible date for the ceremony, a proposal that had not been rejected by any of the sides involved so far, they added.
The Bulgarian side, meanwhile, was anxious to learn about Greece's experiences in its transition to the Eurozone, which Bulgaria hopes to join in due course.
According to Greek Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas and Deputy Development Minister Tassos Nerantzis, Papoulias' working dinner with Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev was an opportunity to signal Greece's strong interest in several possible investments.
Among these was the acquisition by the Greek stock market of a 43% share in Bulgaria's bourse held by the Bulgarian state, construction of roads planned in the near future, the funding of these projects by Greek banks - which also hope to open new branches in Bulgaria - improvements to Bulgaria's stock market and underperforming capital market by experienced Greek banks, investments in the country's aluminium and steel industries and the purchase of a Bulgarian state shipping firm by Greek ship-owners.
The Greek side also noted its interest in the establishment of Greek food and textile companies in Bulgaria and the purchase by Greek firms of hotel units with a view to an increase in tourism in both directions.
Another problem discussed in meetings was Bulgaria's inability to continue supplying surplus electricity to Greece after the closure of its nuclear power plant in Kozloduy and recent water shortages, which came to 880MW a year.
Talks between the two men covered political aspects of Greek-Bulgarian relations, which were described as excellent and the problems of the Balkan region in general.
The public meeting on Planning and Proposals for the Spatial Cooperation Programme 2007-2013, Greece-Bulgaria, held in Komotini, northeastern Greece, concluded on Tuesday that cross-border cooperation within the Interreg programme should emphasise the sectors of innovation, environment, accessibility, sustainable development and quality of life.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting held with the participation of the Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Region general secretary and the Bulgarian deputy minister of regional development and public works, the two sides stressed that the advantage offered to the region by its geographic position should be exploited through cross-border cooperation at national and regional level.
Source: Athens News Agency