EU ambassador Marc Pierini said Monday Syria has ratified a framework accord with the main EU-Mediterranean partnership-financing arm, enabling 10 projects that had been on hold to go ahead.
"This is a very encouraging step toward the resumption of EU-Syrian cooperation," Pierini said, stressing that the European Union is prepared "to help modernize the Syrian economy."
Less than a week ago, a despairing Pierini had questioned whether Syria really wanted to work with Europe on economic reforms here.
He said Monday that without this technical MEDA accord, whose "ratification by Syria was awaited for months," the EU projects in Syria under MEDA auspices could not go forward.
The document resolves issues such as the signing of deals, and taxation on the EU-financed projects.
Pierini said the ratification "is in line with April 14 discussions in Damascus" between European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten and the Syrian ministers for foreign affairs and planning, Faruq al-Shara and Issam Zaim.
Talks this week with Zaim were expected to cover the modalities for launching the 10 projects, most of which are in electricity, telecommunications and archeology, Pierini said. The total value of the projects is 105 million euros.
The talks should also focus on "using the balance from earlier cooperation programs" from which several tens of millions of euros were not used. "The health sector could benefit from this," the ambassador said.
On April 19, Pierini noted that the European Union had proposed programs to support Syrian economic reforms, but few had been followed through.
"There are now "some 130 million euros in grants committed by the EU and still unused by Syria," he said.
"There is an urgent need for clarification: is the EU cooperation wanted?," Pierini questioned in a lecture at the German Goethe Institute in Damascus.
Syria and the EU have been working towards an association agreement since May 1998, aimed at creating a free-trade area by 2010. But experts said the talks were moving ahead "too slowly."
Some opponents to reforms have argued publicly that Syria "cannot afford" such drastic reforms, and that the social cost will be too high, he continued.
"The EU believes that the current form of economic management is unsustainable in the long run and that its social cost is far higher than the alternative economic system," he added.
Pierini said economic reforms were necessary for Syria to face the new economic world order and important for peace with Israel.
The European Union has been striving relentlessly to facilitate the resumption of Syrian-Israeli talks, which were broken off January 10, Pierini said Monday.
The European Union's "wide-ranging experience could be useful in managing the economic aspects of a future peace accord," he added - (AFP)
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