EU ambassador bemoans lack of radical economic reform in Syria
The leader of the European Union delegation to Syria, Marc Pierini, blamed on Monday, November 16 the lack of substantive economic reforms in Syria for delays in negotiating an association agreement with the EU since 1998.
And he warned that the issue for the European Commission was to make a judgment on whether "such costly and time-consuming negotiations are justifiable in the absence of clear perspectives for a consensus on the agreement." "The negotiations between Syria and the EU have been extremely slow by comparison with other countries in the region," he said in a speech to the European Syrian Business Center in Damascus.
"This can be attributed in my view to the absence so far of wide-ranging economic reforms in Syria," he added. "Generally speaking, both European and Syrian leaders agree on one general point ... that in today's world, economic growth requires efficient policies and institutions in order to establish and maintain a proper economic reform framework in a rapidly changing environment, attract private foreign investment and tourism in a very competitive environment, and acquire and maintain a reasonable place for Syrian exports on outside markets," he said.
"Until this equation is fully understood at national level, until consensus is built around it, until public and private leaders are willing to move forward towards genuine economic modernization, and until they are ready to accept the price to be paid, it is illusory to believe that a country can achieve rapidly a major leap forward," Pierini said.
The European diplomat said the SEBC, a joint business grouping set up by the Europeans, was "in itself a success story on the path to economic reform, essentially because both Syria and the European Union were in agreement on the objectives and means of fostering the modernization of the private sector." But, he said, there was a mixed record on attempts to help the banking sector, adding: "we will review the achievements and shortcomings of the EU's Banking Sector Support Program in a closed session tomorrow with the government."
"Even more visible is the protracted progress on the Institutional and Sector Modernization Facility (ISMF), a 21-million-euro ($19-million) grant designed to put an efficient pool of training, visits, technical assistance and computer equipment at the disposal of the government," Pierini said.
"We cannot but be perplexed at the difference between the government's stated objectives and the real progress," raising the question "how much longer should the EU freeze 21 million euros of the European taxpayers' money if, on balance, the project is not supported by the Syrian government?"
The association agreement between Syria and the EU will help boost European investments in Syria, which is looking for funds to modernize its infrastructure and stimulate its economy, which remains very closed to the outside. But Syrian leaders say their country wants to take its time to carry out an economic evaluation before signing up for an association agreement which would lead to a free trade zone towards the year 2010. — (AFP, Damascus)
© Agence France Presse 2001
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