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BSEC in the New European Architecture

 

H.E. Mr. Mihail BARBULAT *

During almost 15 years of its existence, the BSEC has become a visible Organization that displayed a broad range of activities. Today, regional cooperation has become more integrated, emerging as an efficient mechanism which can contribute to the achievement of the common goals of the organization – turning BSEC area into a region of peace, stability and prosperity. Indeed, this idea, enshrined in the Istanbul Summit Declaration on the Establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and later in the BSEC Charter, has guided the BSEC Member States in their interaction and cooperation since 1992.

The Republic of Moldova attaches a distinct importance and a special attention to the process of cooperation in the Black Sea area. It supports the recent developments and initiatives launched within the BSEC in major fields of cooperation, particular interest being focused on transport projects. It is paramount that the European Union restates its policy towards Black Sea area, and particularly in respect of BSEC as the EU borders moved south-east, BSEC being the only regional organization in the area with an established identity and a well-functioning intergovernmental mechanism.

It is quite obvious that the Black Sea area is an integral part of the European system of security and cooperation and, at the same time, it is a vital link and a strategic connection to the huge potential and resources of the Central Asia.

The Black Sea region is also sometimes described as a troubled area; it has had a politically unstable past and is still laden with disputes, frictions, conflict situations, some of them latent and unpredictable.

BSEC countries acknowledge the fact that further cooperation on trade and development in the region must be linked to a renewed determination to promote enhanced sense of stability through confidence-building process and “soft” security measures. Everyone engaged in economic development at any level knows that their success must certainly be preceded by political solution of some kind. Good politics makes good economics, and vice versa. Stable political environment promotes economic growth by creating conditions that allow trade to be free, labor to move freely, currencies to remain stable, credit to become available and foreign investments to flow in. These features of economic development are unlikely to occur where political conflicts dominate all else.

There are certain strategic developments in the Black Sea area that should attract the attention of policy-makers and analysts as well as the experts from the European and the Euro-Atlantic communities.

Energy development, its secure transit to Europe is critical for European countries. The first non-OPEC oil production and transportation within the region has already occurred. Construction of a network of gas pipelines from Caucasian area to Balkans and further to Europe will undoubtedly diversify the supply of gas to the old continent. The project of interconnection of electric power systems of the BSEC member states, if implemented, will lead to the creation of a huge energy market and will eliminate the imbalances of energy supplies in the member states. These developments are already impacting and altering the landscape both strategically and economically in and around the entire region. Thus, the unique transit potential and the energy resources of this wider geographic area may become an important “guarantor” of Europe’s energy security in the years ahead.

The Black Sea port system is a gateway to Central Asia, and further to South East Asia. Without adequate transport connections East-West trade would be hardly developed extensively. The whole system of transport corridors will eventually bring closer the Black Sea area to Europe, making this cooperation mutually beneficial. Two strategic, yet important projects have been launched at the last BSEC ministerial council of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Moscow in November 2006: development of the motorways of the sea in the BSEC region and coordinated development of the Black Sea ring highway.

The network improvements, alongside with the energy developments, will be not only instrumental for enhancing the Black Sea region’s natural advantages as a genuine transit area, but would also promote social cohesion and balanced regional growth, strengthening dramatically the security and sustainable development dimensions for the entire region, thus making European and even Euro-Atlantic communities considerably safer and more secure.

As mentioned above, there are certain serious obstacles on the way to implementing and actually taking advantage of each of these developments in the region. These are impediments that derive from frozen or unresolved conflicts in the area. Advanced forms of communications, transportation and the higher mobility of the population often encourages the operation of transnational organized crime, all sorts of illicit trafficking in people, drugs, weapons, money, and terrorist networks. These phenomena are increasingly present in the conflict areas, uncontrolled and lawless territories, which obstruct development plans, breed terrorism and instigate the creation of criminalized and authoritarian de-facto entities, often disrupting the whole region stability. Finally these “black holes” have had immediate and painful impact on the countries located in areas of the European continent and far beyond. European and Euro-Atlantic Institutions must more effectively and efficiently cooperate with the Black Sea area countries and involve BSEC and its mechanism, where appropriate, to play a complimentary role in peaceful settlement and post-conflict rehabilitation of the conflict zones.

The Black Sea is a critical node in the strategies not simply of independent states that emerged from the Cold War configurations. BSEC has become integral to the evolving policies and strategies of the states of the Eastern Mediterranean; to the larger South Caucasus; to the Greater Middle East; and, of course, to Europe. And it is obvious that where all of these dynamics converge, interest from the big players, now with a larger presence in the Middle East and Central Asia, cannot be far behind.

BSEC must respond to this new strategic map in ways that are appropriate to its objectives stipulated in the charter. Big players have acquired observer status in the BSEC, thus recognizing the readiness to make practical and valuable contribution to the work of the organization. Their partnership, input and support to the overall process of economic cooperation in the Black Sea region is vital and unequivocal for the implementation of the projects initiated in the BSEC. But BSEC needs to keep its activities open and transparent in order for others to participate in.

The process of fashioning ties to Europe is inevitable and inescapable for the entire region. Recently two BSEC member states entered the EU family. Their full membership will obviously strengthen the linkage between BSEC and EU. Their role is important and they do not need to downgrade the BSEC because of their new EU membership.

Both BSEC and EU have a mutual interest in developing a meaningful relationship and in establishing a functional mechanism for the implementation of agreed projects and activities at a regional level. In the BSEC-EU relations, regional cooperation in the BSEC area shall be complementary to the existing bilateral arrangements and agreements and shall comprise all BSEC Member States. BSEC must be seen in Brussels as an essential partner in the implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy that can help deliver the relationship and programs it requires to be effective from the EU perspective.

At the same time Europeans need to accept that BSEC region is the Europe’s new southeastern border. Thus both sides have strong interests in safeguarding the movement of some goods, preventing the movement of others, and maintaining a productive dialogue in order to ensure the overall stability.

The Black Sea Region and BSEC, as an Organization, have unique perspective and location. Recent political, economic and security related developments, both good and bad, have made this new view a necessary element of the broader strategic picture. Though we need to request or even urge from our European and Euro-Atlantic partners to pay more precise and adequate attention to the regional developments and processes, only the BSEC countries can bring this about.

Today is a unique time in modern history, and the Black Sea region is a unique strategic space. We need to use this uniqueness to build a distinctive BSEC approach, alongside with other Black Sea initiative and formats, one that fully coincides with European value aspirations and promotes the interests of its members through understanding and leveraging the interests of other strategic actors.

The forthcoming summit of the heads of states of the BSEC member states in June 2007 scheduled to mark the 15 anniversary of the organization will restate the political will of the BSEC countries to advance the mechanism of cooperation in the region and supposedly will identify new dimensions of interactions between member states. It is also expected that a strategic partnership between BSEC and EU will be forged at the highest level.

Undoubtedly, the importance of the Black Sea region will grow substantially in the coming future due to its strategic location and the economic potential. So should the importance of the BSEC. It should strengthen its stabilizing role in a region, where most of the countries are still in transition in an overall-world transformation process. Now the BSEC plays more than one purpose. It is an indispensable complementary mean to accelerate economic and social progress and hence to consolidate the democratic institutions of all our nations. It also serves as a preparatory ground for integration into the European Union of those of them who seek such a membership, and the rest- to integrate into a wider European space.

* Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Moldova to the Republic of Turkey, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Moldova to the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation