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Bulgaria’s Vision for the Future of BSEC

 

H.E. Mr. Branimir MLADENOV *

Bulgaria is a co-founder of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and has always taken a most active part in the processes of elaboration and evolution of this mechanism for regional cooperation.

It was upon the proposal of the Republic of Turkey that BSEC was initiated and now, from the distance of time elapsed, this idea deserves special tribute and appreciation. It managed to overcome the initial scepticism and to prove its viability and benefits. Nowadays the Organization of BSEC is a full-fledged international organization with a developed institutional basis and a distinct place in the processes of regional cooperation.

The ever-growing number of member states and observers is definitely another indication of the role of the organization and the interest displayed towards its activities.

Bulgaria attaches particular importance to the economic cooperation in the BSEC framework as the only intergovernmental organization in the Black Sea region. It is an important factor for combining and utilising the growing potential of the national economies of the countries in the region.

The Black Sea region and the naturally adjacent Caspian Basin span on two continents, having an aggregate population of circa 350 million people and boasting a foreign trade potential of US$ 300 billion per annum. The two regions form the second most important source of energy resources after the Persian Gulf and are increasingly becoming a priority corridor for transit of energy to the EU. The Black Sea promises to become a major region of economic cooperation in the 21st century.

Entering the 15-th anniversary of its establishment the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) has proved to be a viable and efficient framework for regional economic cooperation. It has displayed a potential for cooperation among member states also in areas such as combating cross-border organised crime, terrorism, illegal trafficking of human beings, drugs and weapons as well as joint action in response to emergencies caused by natural disasters or industrial accidents.

With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union on 1 January 2007, we may rightfully say that BSEC has entered a new stage in its development. It has turned into a framework for beneficial cooperation between four types of states: EU member-states (Greece, Bulgaria and Romania), an EU strategic partner (Russia), an EU candidate country negotiating for accession (Turkey) and partnership countries (Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova).

The basic parameters of the regional cooperation are being complemented by a growing interest for its further development and by an increasing role of EU and NATO in the region. Bulgaria believes that regional cooperation among the Black Sea countries should be developed in close interaction with the European and the Euro-Atlantic integration processes.

Bulgaria enjoys friendly good neighbourly relations and active cooperation with all the countries of the Black Sea region. Bulgaria supports the process of streamlining of the common priorities in the region and furthering the current cooperation in the spheres already agreed. The membership to NATO and EU defines the new responsibilities of our country towards the Black Sea region.

It is Bulgaria’s understanding that the Black Sea regional cooperation should be based on the principles of avoidance of duplicating structures and activities, support to the existing initiatives and organizations and enhancement of democratic processes and reforms. It should be focused at this stage upon the implementation of economic programs and infrastructural projects of regional and European importance.

Bulgaria attaches priority importance to projects in the transport and energy infrastructure, to addressing the new security threats, to adoption and strengthening of the European norms and standards of democracy, rule of law and good governance.

Throughout the years Bulgaria has reconfirmed its willingness to support an enhanced cooperation among the Black Sea countries based on the following specific principles:

- shared responsibility for the development and prosperity of the region and ownership of the regional cooperation process; - synergy between various regional initiatives and programmes;

- an inclusive approach ensuring that no country of the region is excluded;

- the right of each country to decide whether to participate or not in a given project developed with the initiative of countries in the region;

- openness for cooperation with the EU and other international, regional and local organizations and institutions, as well as business associations, academic and research institutions and non-government organisations.

Both BSEC and EU aim towards more pragmatic terms of dialogue and cooperation. It is also EU’s understanding that no new initiatives and structures are needed in the region, but rather a more effective utilisation of the already existing formats of cooperation. And there is no doubt that the most effective regional instrument of such cooperation is the Organization of BSEC itself with its capabilities to activate and involve the resources of all countries in the region.

The European Union has been outstandingly present in the region through numerous activities such as its bilateral programs with BSEC member states. But now the conditions have become conducive for EU to streamline its interest towards cooperation with BSEC in its capacity of a unique regional organization. The formulation of the EU policy towards this area may opt to take into account BSEC’s broader geographical coverage and the inclusion of the three sub-regions (South-Eastern Europe, Black Sea littoral states, Caucasus). In this respect, some member states express the view that the term “wider Black Sea area” should be used instead of “Black Sea region”. Regardless of the names used, taking into account the variety of the region, Bulgaria is convinced that the strengthening of the EU - BSEC relations would be the first step towards the development of a new EU dimension concerning the Black Sea area and adapted to the region’s needs. And the BSEC Organisation, based on its fifteen-year experience and advanced institutional framework, as well as on its broad representativity should play a key role for the establishment of that dimension.

Bulgaria’s vision on BSEC future includes the elaboration, active promotion and implementation of an enhanced EU policy in the Black Sea region - a policy commensurate with the stated wish and approach of BSEC for closer cooperation. Being EU – member states, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania have an important role to play in the elaboration of the Black Sea dimension of the EU Neighbourhood Policy and the establishment of an efficient and pragmatic partnership between the EU and BSEC.

In this regard Bulgaria appreciates the work of the European Commission for drafting the concept of a new regional cooperation initiative of the EU named Black Sea Synergy. At this stage we share the view that does not consider necessary the creation of new structures and institutions. The further development of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the EU – BSEC dialogue will show if such a necessity could appear in the future.

It would be very positive to consider establishing political dialogue EU – Black Sea region on a regular basis. At Foreign Ministers level this dialogue could be started through meetings of the EU Troika and the BSEC Ministerials. This may involve discussions in working groups at expert level. An observer status for the EU to the BSEC could be instrumental in furthering regional cooperation without creating new institutions.

As a BSEC founding state Bulgaria has proposed a set of projects for regional cooperation in different sectors and their inclusion in the Black Sea policy of the European Union.

Bulgaria attributes specific importance to the strategic energy projects as NABUCCO gas pipeline, the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, the AMBO project for construction of an oil pipeline from Bourgas to the Adriatic etc. Bulgarian side also considers it essential for Pan-European Energy Community to have included the countries from the opposite Black Sea coast and the Caspian region.

Concerning the regional transport infrastructure the strategic objectives of Bulgaria are to promote transport links between the Black Sea countries, while at the same time improving safety and security levels in the transport sector. The implementation of the projects for the Black Sea Motorway ring and the Motorways of the Sea will be a huge success for the regional cooperation and the member countries. Some of the Bulgaria supported projects include also development of rail-sea-rail-river IMT Link between the countries of the Black Sea region and Europe, establishing a direct ferry link between the port of Varna and a Russian Black Sea port.

Bulgaria pursues an active policy of ensuring reliable protection and control at the EU external borders. These activities are focused on efficient countering of terrorism, cross-border crime, illegal migration and trafficking of human beings, illegal trafficking of goods, drugs, weapons etc. In 2005 the EU decided to focus on eastern and south-eastern regions (including the Black Sea region) in applying the Global Approach to Migration. Bulgaria agrees that this would be an important subject to be treated in cooperation among countries in the region.

Bulgaria is prepared to partake in all forms of cross-border cooperation designed to enhance confidence, prosperity and stability in the Black Sea region, and commensurate with the applicable community and international laws in this area. Bulgaria is an active participant in the planning and drafting of cross-border cooperation projects in the Black Sea basin under the new facility of the European Commission – the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), including an Operative Programme for Cross-Border Cooperation in the Black Sea Basin, 2007-2013.

Bulgaria regards Black Sea countries as priority destinations for development resources both within the EU policies addressed to third countries and in the context of its bilateral contacts. Eight out of the twelve BSEC member countries are also listed by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as beneficiaries of official development aid. Bulgaria’s development policy is focused on education, infrastructure, encouraging cultural diversity and tolerance, security and post-conflict recovery.

Bulgaria has strategic interests regarding environmental cooperation in the Black Sea region, as concerns the rehabilitation and protection of the Black Sea. Bulgaria is ready to undertake a key role in strengthening the cooperation between the Danube and Black Sea countries. Being both a Danube and a Black Sea country, the country is well placed to contribute to the implementation of EU environmental initiatives and policies in the region.

Making a general assessment of the fifteen years of cooperation within BSEC Organization we may conclude that it is on the right track. In the highly globalized world, the Black Sea region has got its rightful place and recognition as a vital link between two continents - Europe and Asia. What we need now is not confining the region to itself but widening the cooperation with the other international actors and especially with the EU. As member of the EU and the BSEC Organization, Bulgaria is ready to contribute to the synergy between the two organizations.

According to its Charter, BSEC is defined as a regional economic organization. But the business people and the political and economic analysts often refer to BSEC as a “unique” structure with multiple functions in the area. Bulgaria appreciates in this regard the role of the BSEC-related bodies and coherent set of structures (PABSEC, BSEC Business Council, Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, The International Center for Black Sea Studies and the Statistical Data and Economic Information Coordination Center) designed to further enhance BSEC’s efficiency and activities.

There is no doubt that the considerable progress achieved by BSEC so far is a result not only of the solid commitments of the member states. It is also a result of the intensive efforts of all their representatives in the Organization’s structures and International Secretariat. Marking the 15-th anniversary of BSEC, Bulgaria wishes BSEC Organization and its staff further success in their “sail to the new horizons”.

 

* Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Turkey