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EU and Black Sea Regional Cooperation: Cureent Prospects of BSEC

 

Miroslav MEČÁR, Marcel KORDOŠ, Naďa ŠTEFKOVÁ *

It is often argued that the EU has no strategy towards the Black Sea region. But in fact, the EU has no less than three strategies towards the region: enlargement to South East Europe and Turkey, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) towards its Eastern (and also its Southern) neighbours, and the four ‘common spaces’ with Russia. Indeed, therein lies part of the problem.

Within each of these separate strategies, bilateral relations dominate. This is incidentally supported by all the neighbours themselves. In the ENP, the EU pays only lip service to regional cooperation, and its principal mechanisms and instruments are bilateral.

One exception is the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) of financial assistance, which provides significant opportunities for the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). It is proposed that funding to the neighbours will be doubled under the ENPI, which has become operational from 2007 under the new EU budget. More importantly, it will target areas both inside and outside the Union’s borders, including all the countries of the Black Sea region.

Thus, a first and immediate challenge for BSEC is to put regional issues on the ENPI agenda, and develop a list of priority projects of Black Sea regional cooperation for funding from the new instrument.

The dominance of the bilateral approach is a general feature of EU neighbourhood policies. But it is noteworthy that the EU has developed complementary regional policies in its relations with all of its neighbouring regions – for instance the Northern Dimension, the Stability and Association Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership – except towards the Black Sea region. The EU participates actively in regional organisations and initiatives in the wider European area – such as the Barents and Baltic Councils, the Central European Initiative, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe and others – with the exception of BSEC.

This of course raises the question of why the EU has not developed a Black Sea ‘dimension’. EU officials would respond, however, that the EU has a Black Sea regional policy, through regional sectoral initiatives and programmes in key areas of regional cooperation in the region. These include the INOGATE (Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe) programme and multilateral agreement, the TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) and the Black Sea PETrA (Pan-European Transport Area) programmes on transport, and the DANBLAS (Danube-Black Sea Environmental Task Force) initiative, to mention the most important.

A second challenge for BSEC would be to explain why these programmes and initiatives are not sufficient, and what the added value of greater EU involvement in BSEC would be. The EU could further respond that indeed it does participate in BSEC activities when it finds it is useful, but that most of the time, in its view, such participation is not particularly useful. BSEC is regarded by many in the EU as an inefficient ‘talking shop’ without significant regional cooperation of any particular relevance to the EU.

This is less true now than it used to be. BSEC has undertaken substantial policy initiatives in recent years, following a rather long period of consolidation. That this would take such a long time was however to be expected, considering the diversity and lingering animosities among many of the countries of the wider Black Sea region. These initiatives are all in line with EU goals and provide added value, increasingly also within areas falling within EU competences.

It is in the interest of the EU and BSEC that such initiatives are not thwarted by technicalities and misunderstandings. There have indeed been instances in the past when BSEC members and EU members and candidates (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey) have been reluctant or unwilling to support BSEC initiatives because of (unjustified) uncertainty about their compatibility with EU membership requirements. It would be useful to have the EU machinery involved throughout the process of development of such initiatives within BSEC.

Where do we stand today? The wider Black Sea region is acquiring greater significance in today’s world and provides for an interesting case study for a variety of reasons. It is becoming increasingly important to Europe , the United States , and other major powers such as Russia as a key transit area for energy supply and as a line of defence against many transnational threats. It is also home to a number of unresolved problems of the post-Soviet era, known as “frozen conflicts”, such as those within Moldova (Transnistria), Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and between Armenia and Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh). It is also important for international organisations such as the European Union (EU) and NATO, which aim to make the areas beyond their external borders relatively stable, while attempting to address the demands for further enlargement from their new neighbours across Central Europe and the Black Sea region. Last but not least, it finds itself in the midst of a region-building process. It is the combination of the aforementioned issues that has placed the region in the focus of international relations.

The BSEC has many merits as a regional partner. Despite its limited resources and the heterogeneity of it membership, the BSEC has concrete achievements to show. First, it has built a permanent an extensive institutional framework of cooperation that covers all levels of governance (intergovernmental, parliamentary, and financial). Second, it has cultivated a spirit of cooperation among its member states, providing a forum for constant dialogue, exchange of ideas and experiences. Third, it has successfully elaborated binding agreements and common action plans on key issues of regional cooperation (some 33 to date). Finally, as the BSEC is conceived an economic organisation , trade and economic cooperation (especially cross-border activities, trade facilitation and creation of favorable conditions for investment) are identified as areas of potential interface with EU’s policies.

Apart from its bilateral focus, the EU is currently faced with a number of dilemmas as a result of pressure from many of its neighbours to enlarge and of its own internal gridlock regarding the future of Europe . The ENP recipients to the East (Ukraine , Moldova , Georgia, Armenia , Azerbaijan, and Belarus) stretch the imagined political and geographical limits of the European Union. The questions that arise are many: Are there concrete alternatives to enlargement? Can/should the EU embark on further enlargement processes? Can/should it keep its neighbours indefinitely outside? And most importantly: Is there no other way to approach this dilemma? Also important is the level and type of relationship with Russia.

The growing interest in the region and the interplay of the various local, regional and international actors in and around the region suggest the need for clear, concise and precise analytical tools in order to understand better the various processes at play. These also imply the definition of clear strategies on how to proceed, given the different agendas of state, transnational and non-state actors and the plethora of issues and concerns that shape the region. A key question is how to build new bridges without destroying the regional cohesion that has been in place for years. A starting point acceptable to all could be to focus on issues such as the rule of law, institutional renewal and good governance in order to reduce further instability. Another issue that calls for attention as an immediate priority is to engage in concerted conflict management and resolution of the various frozen conflicts. This exercise can only be successful with the participation of all interested actors – the EU, NATO, the US and Russia . Finally, the European Union needs to awaken to regional realities and to use the opportunity to enhance its relations not only with the individual countries of the region but also with the Black Sea space as such. In 2005, the BSEC and its member states stated their intentions to further enhance interaction with the EU. A secure and prosperous Black Sea region in the immediate vicinity of the EU can only become a reality if Brussels adopts a comprehensive regional approach.

Indeed, the new EU member states and their Eastern neighbours are increasingly joining forces to promote cooperation between the EU and the countries of the wider Black Sea region, in what is increasingly referred to as the ‘Baltic-Black Sea axis’. In early February 2005, four new EU members (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) and two candidates (Romania and Bulgaria) founded the ‘New Group of Georgia’s Friends’. The ‘New Friends’ propose to share with Georgia their experience in the process of accession to the EU and NATO and to promote such processes in the wider Black Sea region. Following the Rose and Orange revolutions, the members of GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) are now looking to revitalise their grouping, and have invited the leaders of Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary.

 BSEC

BSEC‘s position within the geopolitic area

So far, these new configurations have been mainly limited to high-level meetings issuing high-sounding statements of good intentions. The challenge now is to translate this political rhetoric into practical regional cooperation, in which the BSEC clearly has an important role to play.

It would also be necessary to find support from other EU institutions. The growing role of the European Parliament has recently been seen during the presidential elections in Ukraine, where its support for free and fair elections led President Yuschenko to refer to the European Parliament as the ‘godparents of the Orange Revolution’. Developing closer relations with the European Parliament, principally a challenge for the Parliamentary Assembly of the BSEC (PABSEC) to handle, is thus likely to become increasingly important in developing EU-BSEC relations and a possible European Black Sea Dimension.

* Ass. Prof. Miroslav Mecar, Ph.D. Dean Faculty of Social Economic Relations Alexnder Dubcek University in Trencin Studentsk,Slovak Republic Ing. Marcel Kordoš, Ph.D. Faculty of Social Economic Relations Alexnder Dubcek University in Trencin Studentska, Slovak Republic Ing. Naďa Štefková Faculty of Social Economic Relations Alexnder Dubcek University in Trencin Studentska, Slovak Republic

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Article is being processed under the Project “Sthrenghten the cooperation between the Black Sea economic cooperation (BSEC) and the EU”, number: 35/2006, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovak Republic.