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South Eastern Europe: Investors Urged To Trust The Region

With the rapprochement of Greece and Turkey as a model, a panel of regional and international leaders tells a New York conference of business representatives to have faith in war-plagued southeastern Europe. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports participants are optimistic about recovery in the region.

New York, 3 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A panel that included the top foreign policy officials of the European Union and United States has made a strong appeal for investing in southeastern Europe. The panel repeatedly cited the recent rapprochement of Greece and Turkey and the democratic steps taken by Croatia as proof that the region is emerging from its difficult post-Cold War history.

The EU's coordinator for foreign and defense policy, Javier Solana, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright each expressed confidence that the EU-backed Balkan Stability Pact would spur change, as well as investment, throughout the region. Their comments came during a panel discussion yesterday (Tuesday) sponsored by the East-West Institute -- an international think-tank-- in New York City. The panel was part of a day-long conference that attracted scores of business leaders, UN officials and government representatives. In the course of the day, the institute also awarded the foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece -- Ismail Cem and George Papandreou -- with its "Statesmen of the Year Award," given to individuals seen as building a united Europe.

The improvement in relations between Turkey and Greece -- long-time adversaries in the Mediterranean -- has been most obvious in the business sector. Cem and Papandreou told the conference of a recent surge in bilateral trade, which is now expected to total nearly $5 billion by the year 2005. Papandreou commented:

"Certainly, the forecast of something like five billion dollars in trade is one which we agree upon, and many businessmen are talking of even more than five billion dollars -- which is a huge change and development in the region." The Greek foreign minister also spoke of the two countries' expanded contacts in areas such as the environment, education and fighting cross-border crime and terrorism. He described the improvement in Greek-Turkish ties as a "new confidence" in southeastern Europe.

Papandreou said Greece's own transformation from a developing to a developed nation now poised to enter the EU's euro currency zone could provide a major economic boost to the region. He said 3,500 Greek companies are now investing and operating in Balkan countries. Greece, he added, is working with Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey to help them prepare for eventual entry into the Union.

EU foreign-policy coordinator Solana was enthusiastic about the transformation in Greek-Turkish relations:

"[The] situation is today that you have seen the foreign minister of Greece and the foreign minister of Turkey practically kissing each other in front of you." (sounds of laughter) "That is a very, very important, very, very important, very, very important achievement."

Moving beyond Greece and Turkey, Solana said developments throughout the region are cause for optimism. He cited the EU candidacies of Romania and Bulgaria and the democratic changes in Croatia since the beginning of this year. He also said that Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania had all moved in the right direction by signing agreements of cooperation and stabilization with the EU.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Cem said southeastern Europe's economic prospects are, for the time being, more promising than its political ones. He said investors can play a role in stabilizing the region by strengthening the private sector:

"We should not wait for a climate of security to be fully realized in order to invest. We should invest knowing that this is the most effective way to bring about a secure environment."

U.S. Secretary of State Albright told the panel that investment alone will not solve the region's problems. She said it will take a combination of outside assistance and internal political will to make reforms work.

Albright said each government in the area must resist corruption and authoritarianism, and follow models of economic and political openness that have brought prosperity to much of the industrial world: "The countries that will prosper in the new global economy are those able to attract investment because their financial systems are open, their rules transparent, their laws enforced and their standards consistent with global norms. A democratic government blessed by accountable leaders who respect human rights will earn the allegiance of its own people and the confidence of those with funds to invest." Both Albright and Solana spoke of the need for Serbia to share in the growth of the region. And both expressed hope that a democratic Serbia can emerge in the process of a region-wide transformation.