Sunday, May 19, 2024

CORRIDOR VIII- COST AND BENEFIT

Now that this project has moved forward, it seems that most of the opinion is oriented towards blocking it. A strange, illogical and self-destructive tendency. In a normal country there would be a complete consensus for a project of this importance, which transforms the country into a commercial crossroads with high development potential.

Author: Xhelal Neziri

The debate on Corridor VIII seems to be taking place in the frames of clashes between political parties, with an obvious ethnic background. It seems that the parties in power defend and promote the start of the works of this corridor as a historic success, while those in the opposition warn about financial misuse and non-respect of the laws and the Constitution of the country. On the ethnic level, it is investigated that the Macedonians are the most vocal against, while the Albanians are the most in favor.

In North Macedonia, it has become a tradition for any political disagreement, even on economic issues, to be brought to the level of inter-ethnic relations. This is also happening with Corridor VIII, which is a major infrastructural and economic project for the country, but of geopolitical importance for the West.

It is important for the country because roads are the arteries that keep a country alive and make it develop. The rate of economic development is in direct proportion to the length of highways and the quality of roads in general. With only 300 kilometers of freeway, RMV ranks last in the region. The capital is connected by highway with Greece, Serbia, in the direction of Albania it ends in Tetovo, and in the direction of Bulgaria – in Kumanovo.

North Macedonia is at the bottom of the European list for road quality. According to the ranking of Global Economy, the country is in the position of 35 out of a total of 40 European countries, with a rating of 3.4, which is the lowest even in the Balkans. Bulgaria (34), Serbia (33), Montenegro (30) are ahead of RMV, while only Bosnia and Herzegovina (BeH) is behind. Albania is higher on the list in terms of the region, being ranked 28th, right after Greece (19th), while Kosovo is not included in the analysis. This study covered the period from 2006 to 2019, evaluating the roads in 141 countries of the world, in which case 14,000 businessmen were surveyed and asked to rate the quality of the roads from 1 (underdeveloped) to on 7 (extensive and efficient according to international standards).

With 110 new kilometers to be built by Bechtel&Enka, the country will significantly improve its road infrastructure and increase the likelihood of attracting new investors. Even more so when this Corridor will connect the port of Durrës in Albania with Burgas/Varna in Bulgaria, representing a remake of the Silk Road that connected the West with the Far East. Another benefit of North Macedonia is the fact that with this project it becomes an important crossroads of two powerful corridors (VIII and X), a situation for which the most powerful countries in the region have been dreaming and working for a long time, such as Bulgaria and Greece.

Concerns about possible misuses that may occur during the construction of this mega-project, which captures the amount of 1.3 billion euros, are completely legitimate. Competent bodies, media and civil society have the right to demand more transparency because they are aware of what happened with the Kicevo-Ohir highway, which is being built with Chinese loans and by a Chinese company, which was originally designed to cost 280 million euros, while now it has reached 600 million and it has not yet been finalized. But, one should always keep in mind some facts that dismantle dangerous narratives for the country:

First, the project is not monoethnic, as is no other street or alley in every corner of the state. All public projects are financed with the money of all taxpayers and, as such, belong to all citizens. Its extent from the border with Bulgaria to that with Albania affects close to 63 percent of the country’s population.

Second, the connection with Albania and Bulgaria will promote economic cooperation with both countries, with a tendency to reach the level of cooperation with Greece and Serbia. If all the surrounding countries are lobbying for one of the two corridors, North Macedonia does not see any of them as competitors since within its geography they are not mutually exclusive. For example, to compete with Corridor VIII, Greece has built the Via Egnatia highway, which connects Istanbul (Turkey) to Durrës (Albania).

Third, the delay in the construction of Corridor VIII appears in all progress reports of the European Commission (EC), criticizing the country for unnecessary delays. The latest report states: “Regional transport connectivity is progressing slowly. There has been some progress in improving key road sections, but work on the VIII rail corridor to Bulgaria is still stalled. Since the second deadline for the completion of the construction of the Kîçovo-Ohrid highway was not met in June 2021, the completion period was extended for another two years”. The same criticisms are found in the 2021 report: “The quality of transport infrastructure and trade logistics remains low, especially due to delays at border customs. When it comes to trans-European networks, Road Corridor VIII needs a substantial upgrade at the highway level…The construction of Rail Corridor VIII towards Bulgaria is facing significant delays”. In the 2020 report, in addition to criticism of the delays in Corridor VIII, the lack of progress in connecting Corridor X with Kosovo is also noted. “The start of works connecting Corridor X from Skopje to Kosovo has been delayed… As a result, the potential of companies to engage in trade and global production chains is reduced. The poor condition of most local roads increases the cost for companies in rural areas to participate in trade.” In the EC report for 2019, among other things, it is stated: “…The lack of political commitment and decision-making significantly delayed the construction of the VIII railway corridor towards Bulgaria. Additional efforts are needed to accelerate progress on this Corridor and other priority sections in the core and comprehensive network, both rail and road.”

Criticism of delays in the construction of Corridor VIII is also contained in other reports of the European Commission (EC). Now that this project has moved forward, it seems that most of the opinion is oriented towards blocking it. A strange, illogical and self-destructive tendency. In a normal country there would be a complete consensus for a project of this importance for the country, which transforms it into a commercial crossroads with high development potential. Even more so when it has the seal of the EU (Crete 1993, Helsinki 1997) and the USA (New York 1995, Skopje 2023).

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