Dear Colleagues,

                      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      On behalf of the Greek government, I would like to welcome you all in Athens to this conference, which provides us with the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas on some of the major issues that concern the wider Black Sea area.

However, before going further, I would like to thank in particular the Special Secretary of the Greek Ministry for Foreign Affairs Mr. Alexandros Tsiatsiamis, as well as the World Bank for convening this Conference.

      Since ancient times, the Black Sea has formed a pivotal crossroad for people, culture and trade, providing a bridge between Europe and Asia, north and south, east and west. Greece has long and well-established historical links with the region. Jason’s expedition in search of the Golden Fleece is emblematic of the Black Sea’s hold on the imagination of ancient Greeks. Starting with the Greek presence in its southern littoral and the numerous migration waves from Central Asia to Europe through its northern littoral, the Black Sea emerged as a primary stage for the playing out of human history.

      The Cold War divided, artificially and momentarily, the Black Sea. However, its end and the opening up of borders that followed, have contributed to the re-emergence of a Black Sea regional system based on long historical, cultural and economic patterns.

      Dear friends,

This conference comes at a difficult juncture for the world economy. The current crisis may not be the first financial crisis of the new global economy, but it certainly looks like the most severe and widespread that the world has experienced since the Great Depression.

      Many argue that it will prove to be a harsh test not only for financial institutions, but also for global economic and political governance; that no region or country will remain immune; no institution or policy rule will escape re-examination; and, that both the developed and the developing world will need to re-assess policies and institutions.

      It is precisely in this climate, when inter-state cooperation is mostly needed, when nationalist and protectionist instincts may prevail, that regional initiatives such as that of Organisation of Black Sea Economic Cooperation acquire added value and importance. It is now, in these difficult times, that our political resolve for working together is best tested.

      Our problems are global, so that our policy responses cannot be national. Escaping the crisis at present cannot lead to a rerun of the failures of the past but the building of a stronger international institutional architecture in the future that can better coordinate policy and manage wisely the forces of globalization. Together with the IMF and the WTO, the World Bank has been a cornerstone of the post-war international economic order. What the current crisis proves is that its role and capacity need to be strengthened.

Furthermore, solutions must be sought in the context of an open world trading and financial system, with increased coordination of monetary and fiscal policies, as well as fine-tuned financial regulations. I would like to emphasise that protectionist tendencies, which have so much hindered recovery and growth in the past, should be definitely avoided. At the same time, we must redouble our efforts so as to secure social cohesion and the living standards of all.

For our part, I am confident that the Greek entrepreneurship, that has, in recent years, invested significantly in this region, will withstand the crisis and continue to contribute to the economic integration and development of the wider Black Sea area. In particular, in my capacity as responsible for Greece’s international economic and commercial relations, I am committed to supporting the Greek business initiatives by visiting many of the Black Sea countries in the near future.

      Against this evolving background of international crisis, the role of the existing regional initiatives, fora and specialized organisations, such as BSEC, remains of paramount importance. The organisation was born in 1992 at a difficult moment for many of its founding members. Much has been achieved since then. While the 1990s were marked by economic decline and social dislocation in many Black Sea countries, the 2000s have registered high growth rates in most of the region. Securing these gains and further building upon them should remain our goal.

Two are the main focuses of our efforts. The first is consolidating the Black Sea as one of the world’s primary energy hubs. Thanks to Russian and Central Asian resources and the expanding network of pipelines, including the South Stream and TGI, the Black Sea is gaining strategic importance as a regional energy hub. Given the expanding European demand for energy, this is a trend that is expected to increase in the future. I firmly believe that increased energy trade doesn’t necessarily lead to dependency, as some fear, but to inter-dependency. 

Our second priority is transport. The physical infrastructure along much of the Black Sea coast is not optimal and therefore can not cope with increased demand for interregional trade. BSEC is supporting two ambitious projects, the Black Sea Ring Highway and the extension of the Motorways of the Sea in the Black Sea region. When completed, travelling across the area will be easier, safer and faster. There can be no growth without trade and no trade without trade routes. Securing the funding and the coordination of all national agencies involved is a taxing but worthy task.

BSEC’s most active agent has been the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, based in Thessaloniki. The Bank has financed numerous projects, private and public. Using the World Bank as a model, the Black Sea Bank has applied the lessons learned on a regional level, turning words and declarations into actual projects.

In these efforts, we can both be helped and inspired by the continuous process of European integration. There has been no more successful example of transnational governance at a regional level worldwide than the European Union. Today, three BSEC states are also EU members, while some others aspire to their future accession. By bringing our nations together BSEC works complimentary to the wider European integration, as is well recognised through the Black Sea Synergy cooperation. In this respect we should bear in mind that regional initiatives such as the Eastern Dimension of the EU and the Black Sea Synergy are complementary and should not be regarded as antagonistic. 

Looking ahead, the challenges we face today, will continue to solicit our attention, perhaps, in an even more pressing way: regional integration, trade and investment promotion, removal of trade barriers and sectoral diversification, labour markets reform, growth acceleration and increase in competitiveness remain our primal goals.

                Yet, in a globalized world, our responsibility is not exhausted within the boundaries of any one of our nations.  We need also to join our forces in new areas of cooperation, like energy efficiency, environmental protection and facing the consequences of global warming. In this highly integrated and risky world, let us be reminded that the only way to move forward is with a new spirit of cooperation, ready to account the contribution of each to the common effort, in order to correct the shortcomings and produce a new model of sustainable growth that will work for the benefit of all our peoples. Ours is not a zero-sum but a positive sum game where the growth of a neighbour is welcoming for all the region as a whole. I am pleased that, during this two-day conference, both specialists and policy makers will exchange views on all of the above issues. I thank you for your presence in Athens and anticipate the conclusions of our discussions.