The Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Christos Spirtzis, speaks exclusively to IBNA, on the sidelines of the 3rd Cross-Border Cooperation Meeting between Greece, Bulgaria, fYROMacedonia and Albania. The Minister analyzes the planning for the implementation of major projects in Greece that will highlight the country as an intermodal transport hub, the necessity of cooperation with the countries of the Balkans and the NA Mediterranean Sea.
Minister, the Ministry of Transport & Infrastructure participates, for the first time, in this quadripartite cooperation between Greece, Bulgaria, fYRO Macedonia and Albania. Could you tell us the conclusions you drew from this meeting?
I believe the fact that the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister have opted for meetings which are not just bilateral but wider, with the participation of the productive ministries, has proved effective. Good relations with neighboring countries, in the Balkans and the South East Mediterranean, translates into financial and productive relations, involving infrastructure, transport, combined transport, and therefore, the participation of the Transport Ministries of all these countries is important in the shaping of agreements stemming from these meetings.
Do plans involve increasing trade in goods, tourism, energy, etc.?
Our goal is for the country to utilize its geopolitical position, the comparative advantages it has, to become a hub for integrated transport; to be able to achieve all links, in both the rail and road networks, but also of the telecom, energy and air lines and networks, so that a new era is ushered in in our bilateral relations and in relations in the Balkans generally.
We believe the Balkans should take on other characteristics in terms of connectivity, allowing citizens to move between countries without realizing where the borders are, following the example of western European countries. No difficulties should exist in the cooperation of specific productive structures; our country must gain inlands in the Balkans and the Balkan inland must have access to seas. In order to achieve these goals, close cooperation is necessary, and we must also proceed with the operation and installation of common systems. For example, it is very important for the management of motorways to eliminate delays at border crossings, and for security reasons too, we need a common system of electronic analogue tolls. We need system interoperability on motorway safety, traffic management and accident prevention. These things could be easily achieved. The climate in our relations with Balkan states is excellent. Therefore it would be good for it to extend, not only between peoples and governments, but also in specific procedures and operations.
Minister, there is an issue in the implementation of works. As far as I know, despite the Greece-Turkey bilateral summit, the works that were agreed are not being implemented, or they have been put on ice. On the other hand, with both Bulgaria and FYROM, roads and railways are not as good as they should be.
Why do you say this? Let’s take a closer look at things one by one. In the case of Bulgaria, the second vertical axis from Rodopi was completed; also completed was another project which had not progressed for decades, this is the largest part of the vertical axis in Evros, and the second axis is also being completed there; a tender will be launched for the third axis; the beaurocratic process for the establishment of a singular company is being completed, with regards to the Kavala agreement to connect ports in northern Greece with Bulgarian ports, while Romania is also interested in being included in this project; a large part of the new railway from Thessaloniki to Toxotes is coming to fruition, as well as from Alexandroupolis to Bulgaria.
With Turkey, there is an effort to unblock projects, but this doesn’t just involve infrastructure issues as you can understand. There is very close cooperation with Serbia and FYROM, the electric railway line is being completed in the autumn. We are in the process of continuous deliberation with western Balkan states, in order to bring to fruition a cooperation especially for the railway axis of the western Balkans, which doesn’t just concern us, but also included non-EU member-states. Albania has an accession course, others do not, making cooperation even more difficult.
In the case of FYROM, the line from Florina to the Monastery will be in operation in a few months. Therefore, we have very different views of the situation…
I hope to witness it in practice as I visit these countries very often. My next question is about infrastructure in Greece, where major roads were delivered. What is the situation with seaplanes?
A draft bill has come to parliament. It will be discussed at parliamentary committee level in a few days, while comments from the deliberation phase have already been attached to the legislation for discussion at committee level. There is great interest being shown by island municipalities as well as private individuals. We believe the extension of this network is sustainable and it will help connections with neighboring countries, including the countries we met with today, Turkey, and perhaps Italy too.
It is important to point out that integrated transport projects in our country are being implemented, the Thessaloniki Freight Center was tendered yesterday, the agreement for Thriasio in on its way for parliamentary ratification, the railway line from Patras to Athens will soon be completed, and the Thessaloniki-Athens line will also operate within the year. As I said earlier, the line from Thessaloniki to FYROM will also be ready to operate, therefore, after many years, Greece will have a modern, fast railway which will change the landscape in freight transport – helping our country become an integrated transport hub – and passenger transport, with the Thessaloniki-Athens route taking just 3 hours and 20 minutes, and even less from Patras to Athens./IBNA