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    Copyright: All those wishing to use or publish the following text are welcome to do so, provided that they indicate the source and inform the AIM office in Paris which is interested to receive comments and reactions on the information it provides. AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 29 OCT 2000 00:22:57 GMT

    Construction of Danube Bridge Left for Better Times

    The West has more to gain from clearing the river and rebuilding old land routes in Yugoslavia. Bulgaria is anxious to renew ties with Belgrade.

    AIM Sofia, October 25, 2000

    Yugoslavia has taken its seat in the South-East Europe Stability Pact. However, it is as if the acclamations of its neighbors after Milosevic's ouster and the coming of the new government have given way to concern for the fate and amount of funds that the pact's members expected to receive in compensation for losses incurred during last year's war and the war in Bosnia.

    The pact's coordinator, Bodo Hombach, offered consolation by telling them that when Serbia took its place, more money would certainly be secured and that there would "be no redistribution of the pie." However, these assurances did not have a very calming effect on politicians in Yugoslavia and neighboring countries, even less after Europe earmarked 200 million euros for Yugoslavia, while Bulgaria and Romania struggled for months for crumbs of the West's promised millions. Events proved, however, that the projects for which the funds were envisaged would have to wait. Other projects have priority in the Stability Pact now. "The clearing of the Danube can start immediately," Hombach said at an economic forum for South-East Europe in Sofia held on Oct. 16-17. "The funds are there, the technical possibilities have been studied," he explained.

    Until recently, corridors 4 and 8, which pass through Bulgaria and Romania, and the energy and road projects associated with them were among Hombach's favorites. Obviously, they have been overshadowed. Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov recalled a meeting with Hombach in the autumn of 1999 when Mr. Hombach had said: "You don't really believe that I think only of Bulgaria when I wake up in the morning?" Kostov also heard him well when Hombach said the Bulgarians were responsible for Bulgaria and that Stability Pact could not play nanny.

    Whatever the case, Sofia is still counting on transnational projects to revive its economy, bogged down by the Yugoslav embargo. However, the Danube Bridge 2 program, which belongs to corridor 4, was inspired apparently by the fear that Milosevic would reign in Belgrade for at least a hundred years to come, because the idea boiled down to circumventing Yugoslavia for transportation. Only things changed, and the old road from Greece and Turkey towards Central Europe, which passes through Yugoslavia, has again become popular.

    Now those who criticized the Danube Bridge 2 project while it was in its infancy are growing more and more critical. They have adopted a thesis that the project was a reward to Bulgaria and Romania for cooperating with NATO during the 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. As it turned out, the reward lacks substance. Apart from the bridge, there are many other matters that need to be settled, such as regional infrastructure, the modernization of two segments of the Kalafat-Craiova and Vidin-Sofia railways and the 354-kilometer Sofia- Kulata -Thessaloniki railway. A new 1370-kilometer railway across the Danube-2 bridge through Budapest-Arad-Timisoara-Craiova-Kalafat-Vidin-Sofia-Thessanoliki was conceived, but the Yugoslav segment was shortened by 259 kilometers.

    Only it is part of transport corridor 10.

    Things have seriously changed in road transportation projects as well. The Budapest-Belgrade-Nis-Thessaloniki road is 1081 kilometers long. The road with the bridge at Vidin would be 247 kilometers longer. Apart from that, the project itself is exceptional. Sooner or later the Vidin-Kalafat road will be built, but this project has been postponed. The first signals have already appeared. FAR refused to finance infrastructure for the second Danube bridge after the manager in Vidina, Velicko Jonov, presented a project for the construction of a 46-kilometer segment costing 2.2 million euros.

    Once more, officials in Sofia recalled Homach's message to Bulgarians. If you want another bridge on the Danube, then you have to pay for it. Apparently, the new political situation in the Balkans demands ad hoc changes. Time is short. With this in mind, the Bulgarian government approved on Oct. 12 a special program for the immediate activating of ties with Yugoslavia on all levels. With regard to this, joint projects involving the construction of the Kalotina-Severni highway, a curve of the Nis-Sofia road around Sofia, a new Belogradchik-Zajecar border crossing, and the electrification of a segment of the Dragoman-Dimitrovgrad railway, were submitted to the Stability Pact. These projects were included in a national plan of regional development for 2001, which was also adopted on Oct. 12. Another project is the construction of a natural gas pipeline to Serbia. The project includes 734 facilities valued at 2.35 billion lev. A total of 40 percent of the necessary funds has been secured. To be perfectly honest, the Sofia-Nis highway belongs to the second transport corridor so it should not affect Danube-2.

    Judging by the situation, however, this project will remain in a file marked "For Better Times," because the West stands to gain more by clearing the Danube and rebuilding old land corridors through Yugoslavia.

    Plamen Kulinski

    (AIM)