At times it sounded almost starry-eyed; still, it carried aspects of planning for a tangible future for a region that has been long enough considered a node of instability. The Balkans and Black Sea Cooperation Forum 2018 attempted to focus the attention of multiple actors to a quest of the region participating in a positive way to a multi-polar world order. The latter-day deity of connectivity formed the centre of all debates in the Forum: not only “Rail, Road, Rivers connectivity to the EU via the Balkans” was the focal point, but significant contributions were made by participants ranging from Special Representative for China-CEEC Cooperation Ambassador Huo to American Ambassador to Athens Pyatt.
“Unlocking untapped potential for business, investment and trade” is a dynamic formula to use; problem is that political impediments would have to be removed for large-scale projects to mature and get really started. As Alternate Economy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas pointed out, some two decades ago Thessaloniki was supposed to become a “Europort” – based on EU planning and funding; nowadays the Thessaloniki Port privatization, along with Greece becoming part of the Chinese OBOR/New Silk Road planning may well put the same project back on the planning board – with the Axios/Danube Canal providing the way northwards, based on OBOR funding. Or, the long-planned Belgrade-Budapest rail link would acquire substance once the Piraeus-Athens-FYROM rail connection feeds Cosco/Piraeus Terminal traffic to the project.
Once the energy sector is brought in, with the web of pipelines and gas terminals acquiring a supra-regional, stabilizing role as US Ambassador Pyatt pointed out, growth potential based on connectivity might well surprise even those considered visionary just some years ago. Of course, large dollops of political will would have to be thrown into the brew - an ingredient that has been sorely lacking from that region for too long.