Speaking at a recent "Conference on Interconnections of Gas, Oil and Electricity Networks in the Balkans", Mr. Christos Papoutsis, Commissioner responsible for energy, commented on the strategic importance of the Balkans in the energy sector: "The Balkans can become the energy crossroad between East and West, the most important area as regards the transport and trading of oil, natural gas and electricity sectors." The Commissioner pointed out that "The extension of the natural gas networks in the Balkans, the transport of natural gas from Iran to Western Europe via the Balkans, the construction of new pipelines providing an outlet for Caucasian and Central Asia oil to the Mediterranean, the supporting and interconnection of Balkan electricity networks with each other, as well as with the European electricity network and the other Mediterranean countries which are not community members, are today feasible projects, supported by the European Union and able to yield important benefits". He further stressed that trans-European networks (TENs) are an action of strategic importance, not only for the European Union and the other European countries, but also for the countries south-eastern Europe. Specific objectives of the European energy policy include: - Promotion of industrial competitiveness and employment; - Security of energy supply; - Promotion of the internal energy market; - Protection of the environment; - Advancement of international cooperation. Commissioner Papoutsis confirmed the Union's willingness to contribute to the political and economic restructuring of the Republics of the former Yugoslavia and pointed out that "Today, new and promising prospects are emerging, prospects that will allow the Balkans to become a zone of development, cooperation and progress. The sector of energy policy and cooperation is a basic driving force as regards both the development of the whole Balkan area and the cooperation of the Balkan countries with the European Union." The Commissioner, however, stressed the need for a "positive political and economic investment climate" to be established before the far-reaching investments needed for the construction of energy networks in the Balkan region can be made. In view of the large number of projects presented at the conference he also proposed the establishment of an "action group", based in the Regional Energy Centre in Sofia, Bulgaria, including the 11 member countries of the Black Sea Cooperation Council. The objective of this "action group" will be to register and examine all proposed projects in detail and define the priority projects according to their importance and technical and economic maturity. In this general context, the European Commission is contributing to the restoration of the Sarajevo electricity distribution network which was badly damaged during the war and electricity companies of the Member States will be requested to provide the material needed to restore the network free of charge. The Commission will supervise the transport and delivery of the material and offer technical assistance to the local authorities. This initiative will be carried out in co-ordination with the international organizations for humanitarian aid already working in ex-Yugoslavia. The Commission is also intending to work towards joint cooperation between Yugoslavia and a Member State (Greece) following the lines of a similar initiative taken last year, in Albania, under the Community's SYNERGY programme. Commissioner Papoutsis believes that such initiatives will contribute significantly to the peaceful cooperation in the Balkans.
Albania, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Greece, Romania