Albania and BSEC Regional Cooperation, European Integration and BSEC



Soon after the fall of Berlin Wall, Europe was facing a delicate situation, with drastic geopolitical changes, which were mainly due to the collapse of the Soviet block and communism. The vacuum in democratic values, political and economical reforms in many countries was very evident and problematic.

Many top officials and leaders from various governments of the newly sovereign states, in Eastern, Central and Northern Europe, started to discuss and exchange views among them. The major concern of such consultations was the existing very weak regional cooperation. During such formal and informal meetings, most of the attention was given to the idea of finding ways to bring together countries in transition into a regional structure/forum or initiative. On the other hand, they also had the idea that the participation from countries of Western Europe with a sound experience and long history in market economy, should be encouraged and considered, as an additional advantage.

Albania is one of the founders of the regional initiative called Black Sea Economic Cooperation - BSEC. Although in principle, my country was not a country “wet” by the sea, with its membership to BSEC, Albania wanted to show to the other countries in the region that it is very much interested in forging good neighborhood relations, in strengthening economic ties with all the countries in this region, in brief to be a serious regional partner.

We are appraising the benefits of our membership to the regional initiatives as satisfactory and we do attach special importance to all other regional initiatives. So far, we are member to the CEI, AII, SECI, SEECP, SP, MARRI and BSEC. Thanks to this dense membership in different regional initiatives, we believe that our presence is quite significant. During 2006, we had the chairmanship in the CEI (Central European Initiative) and AII (Adriatic and Ionian Initiative). We believe that the one year period for each of the above mentioned chairmanships was a very good occasion for us to manage, moderate and guide the activities and projects of these initiatives.

The year 1992, being the initial phase of BSEC’s history, marks the start of the engagement of Albanian institutions, expressed not only in the participation at various fora, but also in an active role and good will to reach consensus in many debates taking place within BSEC. It has met the usual obligations deriving from such membership, ranging from the mandatory financial contributions to the fulfillment of usual chairing tasks. With a constructive spirit of cooperation, Albanian participants started to have a say to the issues of common concern/interest and to work closely with other colleagues from different BSEC Member States.

As a Member State, our country has showed it has a genuine interest to work at regional context, especially in some very important domains such as Energy, Transport and Security matters.

Albania holds that its own major strategic goal, i.e. the European Integration, corresponds to the main target of the majority of BSEC Member States. We think that the future EU integration of our region, as a strategic engagement is the one to be chosen, and to our understanding, this is the best way to move ahead towards progress.

Today, BSEC has 12 Member States, in different stages of democratic reforms and membership vis-à-vis European Union. Having inside the organization also three E.U Members, we believe is a special opportunity to share the positive experiences of reforms and constant actions on sustainable development, applied in line with European standards.

Last year my country signed the SAA agreement with EU and it is very much committed to move ahead towards the process of European Integration. We are particularly happy to see that BSEC is also playing a positive role in meeting this goal.

Nowadays, everybody agrees that important progress of regional cooperation within the framework of BSEC is achieved. We are glad that the organization is trying now to define the frame for a continuous dialogue and cooperative action between BSEC and the EU. This action/cooperation needs to be mutually beneficial and result–oriented. We are confident that our cooperation which we are trying to strengthen in the form of sub-regional or regional cooperation is a stepping stone towards integration in general and a sine qua non condition for the integration into EU, in particular. This process, as a whole is a useful learning process and does also provide a training ground.

While our goal is to speed up the process of our European integration, Europe intends to transform itself into a stronger global player. Better then before, the new century we entered some years before, seems to be the century of challenges towards integration and globalization.

For the majority of BSEC Member States, one important way to be followed for European Integration is also through strengthening and vitalizing the role of regional cooperation. Solidifying this key role in our region means, that this tool should better contribute to a lasting peace, reconciliation, improvement and promotion of civil society, upgrading the economic situation in our countries, creation of new job opportunities, adoption of strategies for a sustainable development, better use of the potentials of our region, protection of environment, and others.

Now let us take into consideration the fact that the EU target for this decade, is to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. To this end, the European institutions are formulating better policies. They are stepping up the process of structural reform and modernization of European social model.

The BSEC Member States need have the same attitude and not invent the wheel. The formulation of reasonable short term targets for this process of integration is a must for us. Our engagement at national level should be combined with regional level and altogether should be aimed at European standards and European structures.

Among the objectives in our path towards European integration, there could be also a proper combination between cooperation and competition at regional and European level. An extra objective could be a possible involvement of BSEC Member States to participate to the respective European Working Groups,

With suitable objectives, the cooperation in our region should be undoubtedly a key factor to contribute to a deeper and quicker regional integration, to the prosperity and well-being of our countries.

The current challenge in Europe is the enlargement process of European Union. The speed is sometimes different. This process has entered a special stage with last two wages of enlargement: the first during the year 2004, when ten new members joining the EU and the second by 1st January 2007, when two BSEC Member States, Bulgaria and Romania followed suit. That is why today many people perceive Europe mostly as a work in progress rather than a defined territory and an economic & political structure / grouping.

But what is the specific role that BSEC is playing nowadays? As we all know, BSEC is a full-fledged regional economic organization, being at the same time the only one acting in our region. It is a well structured and institutionalized organization.

BSEC is a very good example among similar regional grouping and initiatives, which possesses adequate mechanisms and instruments of cooperation, as is the case of the Project Development Fund. With the mandate given at the BSEC Summits, it has expanded its activities beyond the usually explored issue of regional economic cooperation. BSEC has also approved an important document called the “Platform for Cooperation between BSEC and EU”. We believe it is high time to update it entirely.

An ongoing BSEC ambition should be the action to increase its credibility in the Black Sea region and beyond and to facilitate the presence of EU in this region.

During the last period, BSEC` s main compass for its prospects was considered the “BSEC Economic Agenda-For the Future-Towards a More Consolidated, Effective and Viable BSEC Partnership”. This basic document, seen as a strategy oriented to reach BSEC common goals, needs to be constantly revised and updated with a vision, offering a better economic integration of its Member States, as a precondition for the inclusion of the BSEC region in a broader European economic space.

The next BSEC Chairmanship will be a very good opportunity for Turkey to show its ability as a capable regional actor, to boost regional cooperation by moderating dialogue, chairing various meetings, promoting projects of common interest and others. We believe that Turkish Chairmanship will be quite successful, not only due to the fact that Turkey is hosting the headquarters of the organization, but also because this chairmanship is coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the organization.

* Director, Dept. of Multilateral Initiatives, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tirana / Albania