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Serbian Views on the Future of The Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization

 

H.E. Mr. Vladimir CURGUS*

The Republic of Serbia (Former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was one of the countries which, in the early nineties, at the beginning of the crucial changes in international relations, recognized the importance of the Black Sea region and supported the establishment of a regional organization with the aim to improve the business environment and to promote economic cooperation and development. Such an organization was supposed to be the framework for the realization and definition of common interests, strengthening economic ties and encouraging companies, as well as appropriate institutions, to launch their own cooperation.

The Republic of Serbia has become a member of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) at the time of BSEC’s rising regional and global importance. Quite appropriately, it seeks to put a special emphasis on, and make its own contribution to, the strengthening of BSEC’s role in the international community. In view of the geo-strategic position of the Black Sea region, the role and importance of the BSEC twelve countries, their regional interrelatedness and economic potential and the great interest of numerous international actors, as well as its own commitment to the BSEC activities and goals, in addition to the development and promotion of cooperation within the Organization itself, Serbia intends to make additional efforts to establish closer contacts between BSEC and other international organizations and to strengthen their cooperation. It is particularly important that this cooperation be based on the respect of the generally accepted principles of international law as each and every precedent in the implementation of those principles would diminish the scope and impact of multilateral cooperation.

Proceeding from the fact that two BSEC countries, Bulgaria and Romania, joined the European Union during Serbian chairmanship and having in mind the decisions of the BSEC Foreign Ministers’ meetings held in Comotini and Chişinau, as well as the activities of Greece (and, in all likelihood, similar post-accession activities of the two other EU Member States) in respect of BSEC-EU interaction, Serbia intended to promote BSEC’s cooperation with appropriate EU institutions and spearhead the efforts to coordinate and strengthen the Organization’s relations with those institutions. A clear definition of priorities and a concerted approach also include the EU Member States having observer status in the BSEC. For its part, Serbia has established appropriate contacts with Germany during its Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2007. The common efforts of all BSEC Member States produced the first results. The BSEC Member States adopted the document “BSEC-EU Interaction: The BSEC Approach”, which reflects their view of future cooperation between the two organizations. From our point of view, this document represents a good basis for further discussions and decisions regarding the establishment of closer interaction between BSEC and EU. Nevertheless, the promotion and strengthening of cooperation between the two international organizations implies also the definition of concrete forms of cooperation. It can evolve through technical assistance, common activities and projects and through regional programs in the fields of transport and energy, home affairs, trade and economy, good governance (democratization, training programs, exchange of students), environmental protection and sustainable development.

During its mandate as Chairman-in-Office of the BSEC, the Republic of Serbia has paid special attention to BSEC reforms, aimed at increasing its efficiency and effectiveness. Serbia is of the opinion that the efficiency and effectiveness of the Organization can best be achieved by increasing the level of agreement on all the important issues, overcoming potential disagreements and by focusing on projects of common interest. It is therefore of paramount importance to tap all available resources (research institutes, scientific institutions and/or NGOs) in identifying and implementing projects of common interest, which would contribute to the intensification of cooperation among BSEC member states and, by extension, to BSEC’s promotion as a regional organization, the aim of which is to improve the economic situation in its member states. Serbia therefore considers that BSEC should become, first and foremost, a project-oriented organization.

The Republic of Serbia supports the idea of maintaining the continuity of the BSEC goals and objectives, not only as a lodestar on assumption of the Chairmanship of the Organization, but also as an obligation. This would ensure the continuity of work, create conditions to discuss long-term projects and would bring about an increased interest by all Member States in their realization and, by the same token, improved cooperation and BSEC’s greater efficiency and effectiveness. We think this principle would be incumbent upon each chairmanship in order to facilitate the realization of ongoing proposals and projects and to submit new, long-term ones. Accordingly, Serbia supports the ideas and activities launched in the past period and renders its own contribution to their implementation. Based on this principle, the Republic of Serbia defined its priorities with a view to continuing some of the activities of former Chairmen-in-Office as well as to creating such an environment where each member of the BSEC Troika could contribute to the realization of the previous initiatives. Serbia considers that the system of direct written communication is a good way to increase BSEC’s efficiency and effectiveness and supports its introduction and implementation.

In addition, Serbia has devoted special attention to the BSEC activities in the following areas as well:

Cooperation in the fight against organized crime and terrorism - Organized crime is becoming a growing threat to all countries of the region, increases the influence of criminogenous factors and is the cause of an ever greater social stratification and impoverishment. Efforts to combat organized crime are therefore imperative for all countries and for cooperation in this field and may be beneficial in many ways. Reform of the relevant institutions, adoption of appropriate laws and better regional cooperation, as well as the establishment of direct contacts among police authorities, are important stepping stones in combating organized crime. Terrorism, too, poses a serious threat to the stability and security of the civilian population - the most frequent target of terrorist acts. All these measures should result in the creation of safety and security zones that would have a ripple effect on their environs as well. Cooperation in this field calls necessarily for the establishment and development of cooperation with EU anti-terrorism and organized crime units.

Environmental protection - Protection of the environment is the task for all BSEC members as it is an investment in our common future. It is extremely important to ensure that all social actors, from government agencies down to primary schools, increase their awareness of the importance of the environment and their responsibility in its protection;

Education - Cooperation in the field of education should be a BSEC priority in the forthcoming period since teaching similar and/or kindred curricula to the young will help them understand each other better and work together in the future. Accordingly, Serbia supports meetings to be organized on all levels of education and exchange of relevant reform experiences. It initiated establishment of institutionalized cooperation among diplomatic academies of BSEC countries, aimed at improving the understanding of future players in multilateral regional processes and completed thereby similar initiatives already existing at the bilateral level. We are convinced that education of diplomatic personnel, based on common or similar principles, can significantly contribute to better communication and contacts in the region and to a successful cooperation in future. As a concrete step in this direction, Serbia organized the “First Formal Meeting of Representatives of the Diplomatic Academies of the BSEC Member States”, held in Belgrade, in January 2007, which gathered directors of diplomatic academies as well as the high representatives of appropriate institutes. Our primary task during this meeting was to strengthen contacts between our diplomatic academies and to look at future modalities of cooperation by sharing the know-how and experience. The participants adopted the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation among Diplomatic Academies of the BSEC Member States and agreed to recommend the signature of the said Memorandum at the 16th Meeting of the BSEC Council of Ministers to be held in Belgrade, on April 19, 2007. We hope that our efforts should help improve understanding between students of our academies. We trust that this cooperation should also include exchanges of lecturers and students, establishment of regular electronic channels of communication, as well as defining and implementing our joint projects. It is our belief that the activities of the diplomatic academies will be gaining in importance and providing a fresh impetus to the general cooperation in the region and contributing to the accomplishment of the overall BSEC objectives.

Transport - Cooperative activities in this field may benefit all BSEC members and initiatives aimed at linking those countries and deserve full support and assistance. Good roads help achieve other development goals, improve contacts among populations, facilitate trade, strengthen economic cooperation and enlarge tourist potentials. This area of cooperation offers possibilities for development of cooperation among BSEC Member States as well as with other EU and Asian countries. Two memoranda of understanding which represent the first results of cooperation are being prepared.

Tourism - Tourism is one of the leading sectors in some BSEC countries and is of paramount economic importance for most of them. Investment in tourism is important not only because of substantial returns, but also because of its positive effects on local employment and development. Construction of proper infrastructure and activities to improve tourism facilities are instrumental in bringing about development and contacts among the peoples of the region. Certainly, the emphasis should be placed on the development of sustainable local environment- and culture-friendly tourism that would create new jobs and yield substantial financial receipts. Serbia wishes to continue the good tradition of BSEC and enable the tourist organizations from BSEC countries to present their capabilities at the Tourism Trade Show in Serbia. Likewise, Serbia considers that cooperation in the field of tourism will make it possible for BSEC countries to identify projects of common interest as well.

Culture - Serbia supported the proposal to set up a BSEC Working Group on Culture as an important body that deals with issues related to the protection of cultural sites and the preservation of cultural heritage in general.

The Republic of Serbia strongly believes that the BSEC will have a growing importance and role in international relations. Our further activities will be concentrated on contributing to the overall aims of the BSEC as well as to promoting it in the best possible way, because we do believe that own results and achievements are the best foundation for any kind of cooperation and relations with third parties. Therefore, successful cooperation among BSEC Member States should be the best promotion of the Organization itself and its future development.

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