Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)


Erhard BUSEK *

It is a matter of fact that the map of Europe has enormously changed since 1989. We are always linking this to the downfall of the Iron Curtain and the end of Communist Systems in Eastern Europe, but in reality we - as Europeans – have inherited new obligations due to this newly drawn map. Seen from an Austrian point of view, the Black Sea Area was an area that was geographically far away from Vienna after the end of the Habsburg Monarchy. In the course of the developments at the end of the last century, it has turned now again into a region close to my country and certainly close to the neighbourhood of Central Europe. We are more and more aware of the fact that the river Danube is establishing a direct link between us and the Black Sea Area. If Croatia and Serbia enter the European Union in the future, the river Danube will become a European inland waterway, and also a primary bond between the Atlantic, the Black Sea and indirectly - through the Bosporus – even a connection to the Mediterranean Sea.

Such changes can also be related to the newly drawn map of South Eastern Europe. And they seem to take on a similar shape nowadays in the Black Sea Area. From time to time we are debating how far Europe reaches, where the borders end; however it has to be emphasised that the Black Sea Area is located in the very heart of Europe. Instead of debating the outer frontiers of Europe, people should rather focus on gaining more knowledge on the regions we are linked to for several reasons because among the European public such an awareness has not yet gained momentum. Not only the political changes but also the wars and current hot spots highlight the existing responsibility and demonstrate the lack of interest or even distance in the mind of the people from time to time, which is certainly not correct or up-to-date. The development of a European democracy and stability depends to a large extent on the situation in the Black Sea Area.

In my capacity as Co-ordinator of the South East European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) - where Turkey is also member - I participated in the celebration of the 10 years anniversary of BSEC. It was a remarkable meeting held in Istanbul, where several Heads of States and Government Officials were present. It was also a moment of promising declarations, which eventually should be implemented now. Europe however grows step by step only, and regional initiatives have an increasing importance in these developments. That applies to the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe (prospective South East European Cooperative Process or SEECP, and Regional Cooperation Council or RCC), the Central European Initiative (CEI), and to the Adriatic Union Initiative (AII) and for sure to the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). All these initiatives cooperate regionally but also amongst themselves, which could be seen as a sort of integration process because they all have the same aims, they are all involved in the same fields (for example in infrastructure, energy, investment and business, etc.) and they have a common interest in creating an extended zone of democracy and stability step by step. The problems of course have different characters: For South Eastern Europe the four wars the region faced are a piece of evidence by themselves which even leave some countries with unresolved problems like the status of Kosovo. On the other hand, one can also observe that for example the problems around Moldova and Transnistria are overlapping issues within the different initiatives.

We all put a lot of energy into avoiding duplication of tasks and creating a division of interests to obtain more effective results. I may claim we do so quite successfully given that the work basis for the different initiatives in the different regions is also very diverse.

The Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe is currently transforming itself into a more regionally owned structure, the Regional Co-operation Council (RCC). The impetus for such a change came mainly from the European Union and the US. BSEC on the other hand is an initiative driven by the partners in the very region –which constitutes a real window of opportunity but also creates difficulties sometimes. The Stability Pact developed very similar instruments to BSEC such as the creation of the Business Advisory Council knowing that without foreign direct investment and the enhancement of infrastructure sound economic development is impossible. So I may congratulate BSEC on its foundation of the Black Sea Economic Development Bank in Thessaloniki. It is in our common interest to use such an institution because without the assistance of the international financial institutions (IFIs) we are not able to achieve sustainable results.

Sometimes the Stability Pact is being criticized from the outside for having partly the same states as members as BSEC. I am happy about it though, because it is through these countries that we can guarantee good coordination and close cooperation. The results of BSEC’s work are impressive, not least because BSEC represents one of the most diversified regional initiatives with regards to its members: new and old states come together here, countries where some regional disputes are still not solved, countries where the economic and social standards are very different; and yet there is a common will to manage the situation at its best. The decision to build a highway around the Black Sea for instance is a very important sign of this common will to get good results.

There are some fields where the achievement of results by BSEC would be extremely important, not only for the region itself but also for Central and South Eastern Europe, and for the overall development of European Integration:

1.) Energy: The need for energy simultaneously creates a necessity for closer cooperation. Around the Black Sea some countries hold a lot of energy resources, especially gas and oil. There are also other countries, which are in need of energy. Furthermore there are some countries that have a great role to play in the proliferation of energy through pipelines and electric systems. Maybe closer cooperation on this general spectrum of energy -like the energy treaty for South Eastern Europe has done - would lead to the creation of a “European Energy Community”, just like the European Community for Coal and Steal in the European past.

2.) Infrastructure: The exchange of goods and the expansion of the tourism sector create a need for better infrastructure such as roads, railways, airlines and the use of the river Danube and the Black Sea itself. A lot of priorities could be listed in that respect. As far as I know the international financial institutions would be prepared to assist financially for infrastructure projects, however there is a general lack of managerial solutions presented by the countries concerned.

3.) Foreign Direct Investment: within the global process of competition it makes no sense to campaign for foreign direct investment on an individual country by country level. A feeling for a shared opportunity and market around the Black Sea has to be created and promoted because in reality this area represents the future for the European business community.

4.) Tourism: The Black Sea Area is a beautiful area, which is however internationally still under-used in contrast to the overall huge demand to spend time in beautiful recreational areas of nature and culture. A promotion strategy to present the Black Sea Area with all its attractions would be a step forward.

5.) Fighting Crime: a lot has been done here in the past by the SECI-Center in Bucharest but also by GUAM. Both initiatives though have to still improve effective cooperation with other institutions like Interpol and Europol.

6.) Science and research: Some of the countries of the Black Sea Area have horrendous brain drain statistics, which can only be improved through increased investment in research and development. An economic and social improvement of the region in turn largely depends on keeping the brain drain effect at its lowest. This would imply efforts to lower the high mobility of the labour force, which usually migrates to totally other areas of the world without the intention of returning.

7.) Culture: as diverse as the Black Sea Area is by culture it holds at the same time many common elements. Its precious cultural variety in architecture, music, literature, religion and social live should be presented to and shared with other parts of Europe and the world at large.

There are a lot of fields, where closer cooperation between the Black Sea Region and Europe would still be needed. I only mentioned the most important ones given the current situation. To this list there may be added for example ecological matters because climate change is a global problem and responsibility. This would be a strong argument in favour of linking the Black Sea Area to many more of the initiatives the Stability Pact is running.

BSEC is the clear demonstration of the current global development to remove national borders in all kinds of fields where mankind shares responsibility, and to cooperate more globally. In this context, a focus on fostering human rights and democracy, economic development and social standards becomes another necessity. It should not be forgotten, that the Black Sea Area constitutes the bridge to the Middle East, an area where still a lot of tensions and hostility are existing. It is always helpful to observe examples in one’s direct neighbourhood because through an osmotic process neighbours can also be highly influenced. So BSEC usually serves as a very good benchmarking example of neighbourhood policy, one we would need more often. I may congratulate BSEC and Turkey for their efforts in this context. Their achievements and mission are not only necessary for the region, but also for our common Europe.

* Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe