The proposed 'Adriatic and Ionian Sea Macro-region' would involve national and regional authorities in three EU member states – Italy, Slovenia and Greece – and five countries that are preparing to join the EU – Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania.
Ministers from these countries have asked the European Commission to work with them on developing an EU strategy that would provide a framework for their cooperation in various fields, such as environmental protection, shipping and transport.
Meeting in Brussels yesterday (23 May), ministers from the eight countries adopted a declaration asking for "formal acknowledgement of the strategy at the highest level" and confirming their willingness to work with the Commission.
The idea of having an EU strategy for a 'macro-region' has already been tested among the countries around the Baltic Sea, and this year sees the official launch of a strategy for the Danube basin (see 'Background').
Last month, ministers from all 27 member states endorsed the idea that groups of countries should work together on developing such frameworks.
Damanaki endorses 'Maritime Strategy'
The development of an Adriatic and Ionian Sea Macro-region is being encouraged by the European Commission.
Maria Damanaki, the EU commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, applauded the initiative taken by the eight countries.
"The Adriatic Ionian countries are bound not only by historical links and a common cultural heritage, but also by a shared responsibility for their sea," she said.
Addressing ministers from the eight countries, Damanaki said she had instructed her staff to work with them on a 'Maritime Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian'.
"I extend a special welcome to the non-EU countries and I gladly invite you all to work with us in the coming year, so as to have a proposal ready in 2012," she concluded.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik also expressed his backing for the macro-region.
"I am convinced that cooperation will be essential for identifying and addressing the specific challenges for the marine environment in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and implementing successfully the ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities," he said in a written message to the ministers.
Strategy is needed 'right now': Bresso
The president of the EU's Committee of the Regions (CoR), Mercedes Bresso, also gave her strong support to the demand for a new macro-regional strategy.
"From overfishing to chemical pollution, the Adriatic and Ionian face many challenges that can only be solved if all neighbouring countries pull in the same direction," said Bresso.
"A European strategy for the entire Adriatic-Ionian 'macro-region' would give us the means to tackle these issues together," the Italian explained.
According to Bresso, participating in a macro-regional strategy would also be a way for the candidate countries and potential candidates in the Western Balkans to strengthen their cooperation with the European Union.
"Proper involvement of local authorities keeps citizens close to the accession process and informed about its concrete advantages," she added.
Bresso called for a macro-regional strategy to be launched "right now, at a crucial time for defining priorities on future funding programmes for post-2013".
The CoR is currently preparing an own-initiative opinion on 'Territorial cooperation in the Mediterranean through an Adriatic and Ionian Macro-region'.
The opinion, drafted by the president of Italy's Marche Region, Gian Mario Spacca, is due to be adopted at a CoR plenary session in October.