EU must foster Black Sea cooperation, say ministers


The EU needs to “make sense” of the multitude of existing initiatives covering the Black Sea region in order to guarantee peace and energy security, said participants attending the ‘Fostering democracy and development in the Black sea region’ conference in Brussels on May 26.

EU must help the heterogeneous countries along the Black Sea coasts to find ways to guarantee and strengthen peace, without leaving aside issues such as human rights and fundamental freedoms, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht stated. De Gucht hosted the event, organised by CEVIPOL – Centre d’étude de la vie politique (ULB) and the Embassy of Bulgaria. He stressed that the EU is the “impartial party” which could streamline existing initiatives, which sometimes overlap. 

Energy security as central issue

Strategic thinking about the future of the Black Sea is shaped by security concerns, especially energy security, several participants stressed. Threats such as terrorism, transnational organised crime, the “frozen conflicts” of Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, illegal trafficking and migration should not be underestimated, participants stressed. 

With the Black Sea becoming adjacent to the EU with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, the EU can now involve the latter as well as candidate country Turkey and the countries covered by the European neighbourhood Policy (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova) in addressing its problems. 

Academics more sceptical than diplomats

Academics who took part to the debate expressed the view that most of the Black Sea initiatives seem to be made by and designed for the diplomatic elite. Often so-called international initiatives are born to suit ambitions for regional leadership, while the civil societies are not even aware of them and remain forgotten. 

Scientists questioned whether the Black Sea region was indeed a region, compared to other regions like Scandinavia, which always had such a statute. Several speakers considered that in fact the Black Sea region is “more a matter of politics than geography”. 

Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin made a keynote speech, noting a positive shift in the EU's vision of how to engage in the region. He called for coherence of the EU policy instruments towards its Black Sea neighbours. He also stressed that energy security is becoming an issue of utmost priority for the Black Sea region, highlighting the need EU and NATO to be "actively involved" in the region. 

Kalfin also expressed the view that the energy markets in the Black Sea basin and other regions should be integrated through the expansion of the European Energy Community. He added that his country was ready to host the Office of the Energy Community Observatory, which would monitor the energy flows in the Black Sea region. 

Pierre Champenois, representing the Egmont institute, questioned whether countries rather distant from the region such as Belgium should "take aboard" the Black Sea policy among their priorities, since the Black Sea has become adjacent to the EU. Some of the next speakers answered on a positive note, others considered that you could not ask every EU country to be equally committed to fostering the Black Sea cooperation. 

The Black Sea region is increasingly viewed as one of the keys to reliable oil and gas deliveries to the European and global market. 

A great number of regional initiatives bringing together countries from the Black Sea region have been established over the last 15 years. In April 2007 the EU made an effort to streamline them through the Black Sea synergy, launched at the EU-Black Sea Countries meeting in Kiev on 14 February 2008 (EURACTIV 11/04/07).

The Black Sea Economic Cooperation was established in 1992 after a Turkish initiative, with the participation of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine. 

GUAM, the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development, was established in 2001 as a regional organisation grouping four post-Soviet states – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. 

In 2001 Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia established Blackseafor, an organisation specialised in search and rescue operations, minesweeping, environmental protection and the organisation of goodwill visits. 

The 'Baku initiative' is a policy dialogue between the EU and the Black Sea and Caspian basin, established in 2004.

The Black Sea Forum was established in Bucharest in 2006 after a Romanian initiative, with the participation of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Turkey, Romania, and Ukraine. 

Lastly, the 'Black Sea synergy' is a EU initiative launched in 2007. 

  • Upon the launch of the 'Black Sea synergy', depending on progress, regular ministerial meetings have been envisaged.

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