EU eyes greater influence in Black Sea region

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With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007, the Black Sea became 'European' as much as the Mediterranean or the Baltic. However, despite a flurry of initiatives, experts say the EU's influence in this area will remain restricted. EURACTIV France reports.

The EU should 'enlarge' its model to the Black Sea and help the area move towards higher environmental standards, experts said at a conference organised in Paris by the Assembly of European Regions (AER) on 15 and 16 February.

For example, in an attempt to tackle groundwater pollution in the area, the EU is promoting sustainable and integrated water management in the Black Sea. The area is polluted by merchant ship traffic, and tankers in particular.  

Officials who attended the event, which gathered representatives of European institutions and decision-makers from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and the Danube, also agreed that energy was a common denominator for fostering cooperation in the Black Sea area.

"Some 211 million tons of oil will pass through the Black Sea in 2010," estimated the executive director of the Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution (BSC), Ahmet Kideys. He added that the EU was prepared to participate in the clean-up effort.

EU experts confirmed that appropriate instruments for achieving this goal were in place – mentioning for example the Black Sea Euroregion, formally established in 2008 – and said several existing programmes could provide funding. 

Critical voices

However, some regional actors said that the European strategy for the area was not efficient enough. Some speakers denounced weaknesses like a lack of overall integrity and understanding of EU intervention, confirming fears expressed since the introduction of Black Sea Synergy.

"It would be better if all would be covered by the same programmes, because there are in the Black Sea EU member states and non-EU members. Different principles apply to each country, or almost," said Sergi Glebov, professor at the University of Odessa in Ukraine.

However, Glebov recognised the EU's expertise as "very important," saying that beyond funding, the Union can bring to Black Sea countries the assistance and the experience they desperately need to fight pollution. In this context, he referred to the successful examples of the Baltic Sea Strategy and the Baltic Sea Euroregion.

Hande Ozsan Bozatli, first vice-president of Istanbul Provincial Council, called on the many organizations which have common aims in the region, such as the Council of Europe, the European Commission or the Assembly of European Regions (AER), to coordinate their action.

"We would like to have a single interlocutor, otherwise it's confusion," she said.

Coordination problems

However, speakers also called for better coordination locally. Without a decisive effort from regional political decision-makers in the Black Sea Basin, EU support will not completely pay dividends, they said.

In this respect, AER asked regional players to set aside their different geopolitical interests in favour of an integrated and long-lasting approach.

"The strategic question must be defined by the European or national policy, but for the realisation, the role of the regions is very strong," Klaus Klipp, general-secretary of the AER, was keen to stress.

"For most of us, this is the first time we have met," Ahmet Kideys pointed out.

Stefan Harte, project director at the European Investment Bank (EIB), joined Klipp in inviting regional leaders to take part in ongoing discussions on the post-2013 EU budget.

"Right now, there is no budget heading for the Black Sea, but after 2013, everything is open," they said.

"Moving towards integrated management requires a total reorganisation of public services in our region and many institutional reforms," Mykola Serdyuk, head of Odessa Regional State Administration, recognised. He explained that a lack of managerial competence was a major setback for improving regional cooperation.

The Black Sea region is increasingly viewed as key to securing reliable oil and gas deliveries to European and global markets. 

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

Black Sea Economic Cooperation was established in 1992 on Turkey's 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 on Romania's initiative, with the participation of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Turkey, Romania and Ukraine. 

Then, the 'Black Sea Synergy' as an EU initiative was launched in 2007. 

Finally, in May 2009, the EU adopted the Eastern Partnership, a plan to foster closer political and economic ties with six former Soviet republics - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia border the Black Sea (EURACTIV 08/05/09).

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