In an unstable geopolitical context, with increasingly strong and visible tensions in the international arena, the European Union’s reform process can’t neglect how Member States intend to relate to the Black Sea.

Boris Iarochevitch, the Head of Division of Eastern Partnership, regional cooperation and OSCE Division, from the European External Action Service, conducted an analysis of the prospects for regional cooperation in the Black Sea in an interview with Vladimir Adrian Costea for Europunkt.


Citeşte versiunea în limba română aici.

Vladimir Adrian Costea: Do you think there is a paradigm shift in defining and understanding the importance of the Black Sea potential over previous years?

Boris Iarochevitch: With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, 10 year ago, the EU’s maritime boundaries extended into a region strategically located at the junction of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Acknowledging the importance of the Black Sea potential, immediately in 2007, the EU developed the Black Sea Synergy initiative. This is EU’s key framework and contribution to the regional cooperation in the area. The aims are clear, focusing the political attention at the regional level and developing cooperation within the Black Sea region, and between the EU and the region as a whole. Intended as a coherent, long-term initiative, the Black Sea Synergy complements the EU’s bilateral and sectoral activities in an effort to seize opportunities and bring increased stability and prosperity to the Black Sea region.  Building confidence and fostering regional dialogue were from the beginning at the core of the Synergy. The initiative is designed as a flexible and inclusive one, open to the participation of all states in the region.

The centre of gravity of the Black Sea Synergy is the Black Sea region and the actions and projects are taken from the region. Encouraging a bottom up approach, identifying and supporting what the partners in the region want to do together are fundamental for the Black Sea Synergy. A wide variety of areas, ranging from environment, transport, and energy to integrated maritime policy, higher education and civil society are included in the Synergy. In 2015, to boost the implementation of this initiative, a comprehensive review of the Black Sea Synergy was done. A snapshot of the progress and a number of „lessons learned” to address the future development of the Synergy were included in the Joint Staff Working Document – Report of the Black Sea Synergy, and linked to other EU initiatives, such as EU Danube Strategy and EU Maritime Security Strategy.

Last year, the EU reshaped its priorities on external action, and developed the Global Strategy. The cooperative regional orders, as a mix of bilateral, sub-regional and inter-regional relations, or the strategic approach to resilience encouraged at state and societal levels are two of the Global Strategy’s priorities. Additionally, in 2015 a reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy was released, focusing on achieving the overall goal of increasing the stabilisation and resilience of EU’s Eastern Neighbours. All these are fundamental for the EU’s approach in the wider Black Sea region as well, and for the relations with the states part of it. Fine-tuning and perfectly rewiring in the most appropriate ways EU’s approach to the Black Sea with the Global Strategy and the reviewed Eastern Neighbourhood Policy is a currently ongoing thinking and doing process.

In parallel, the EU will continue to further define the importance of the Black Sea potential together with all existing stakeholders in the Black Sea region, including international and regional ones. As the 2016 EU Global Strategy underlines, there is a clear need to strengthen multiple partnerships: increasing all stakeholders’ participation and better coordination with other regional and international organisations. The EU will do so through dialogue and support, but also through more innovative forms of engagement.

How do the states that have the Black Sea exit report to the concept of regional cooperation?

The implementing of all initiatives and activities in the Black Sea region cannot be achieved without the cooperation of the countries in the region. The geopolitical landscape of the Black Sea area has a unique composition, with complex webs of diverse and often conflicting interests, aspirations, interactions and identities. This is the region where EU and its Member States meet two major stakeholders, Russian Federation and Turkey, alongside with the other Black Sea states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine

Despite this challenging situation, in implementing the EU’ Black Sea Synergy, there is progress on practical projects of interest and benefit to the citizens of the Black Sea area. One of the successful engagements, that doubled its budget for 2014-2020, by reaching almost 44 million euro, is the „Black Sea Cross Border Cooperation Programme”. The launching of call of proposals of this programme aims to focus on projects that are improving the welfare of the people in the Black Sea Basin through sustainable growth and joint environment protection. So far, the funding was granted for promoting business and entrepreneurship, and for coordination of environmental protection and joint reduction of marine litter in the Black Sea Basin.

Another positive project under the Black Sea Synergy is the programme of „Improving Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea”, launched in 2013, in the framework of the EU Black Sea Synergy Environmental Partnership. EU had invested 1 million euro for the programme to improve the availability and quality of data on the chemical and biological status of the Black Sea and the abilities of monitoring marine environment of Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.

Civil society remains an important stakeholder in the region, in particular the Black Sea NGO Forum. This Forum represented an important initiative in redesigning the strategic approach of civil society in the Black Sea region.  Since its very first edition back in 2008, the Black Sea NGO Forum aimed at creating an open space for debate, sharing mutual knowledge and understanding, communication and cooperation among civil society representatives, governments, international organizations and donors active in the region. The Forum focuses on sharing good practices in various domains and success stories of regional cooperation.

What were the main obstacles to regional cooperation in the Black Sea area? To what extent do these obstacles continue to exist today?

The cooperation in the Black Sea region and the day-to-day activities are developing against the background of various conflicts, hot and frozen, old and new. In particular, in the recent years, the security situation in the region was profoundly marked by one country’s violation of the international law and destabilisation actions toward another one. Despite these, and in full compliance with the international law, human rights and the rule of law, the regional cooperation should be a platform of creative thinking and developing of broad, deep and sustainable actions to address the transnational challenges of today, such as the climate change, the necessity of more competitiveness, maritime security, poor education or research actions, or thin cross-border cooperation. More concrete efforts are further needed, with deepening societal ties and the engagement towards youth, civil society and business.

How does Romania relate to the Black Sea area in relation to the other Member States?

The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU added a new dimension to its regional cooperation policies. The EU’s significant and back then new coastline along the Black Sea created legitimate and greater political attention to the region. Thus, the Black Sea was included in the EU’s already existing focus on the neighbouring sea regions, alongside the Baltic and the Mediterranean Seas.

Within EU and partnering with EU Institutions and the EU Member States, both from the region – Bulgaria, Greece, and widely – Germany, Austria, Sweden or Baltic States, Romania was forthcoming, and actively worked from the beginning on the opportunities and the potential of the Black Sea region, including with seconded experts to EU institutions. In a constant dialogue, and with the subtle knowledge of the region, working jointly, the EU Member States in the area, especially Romania, supported and encouraged the implementation of the Black Sea Synergy. Consequently, in a decade of cooperation, the EU is definitely not anymore the newcomer of the region.

What are the measures you consider opportune to maximize the potential of the Black Sea?

The Black Sea Synergy remains EU’s key framework and contribution to fulfilling the region’s potential. The Synergy has its positive results, but the progress in implementing it was not as much as was hoped and wished for 10 years ago. Black Sea Synergy has a lot of untapped potential and the EU is interested in making full use of that. There is a need for a new reflection on how to take the cooperation in the Black Sea region forward and to also stimulate a broader interest from the EU Member States. EEAS has an important role in all the above and acts accordingly.

The starting point for the reflection process remains reinforcing coherence across the various existing and planned initiatives under the Black Sea Synergy, while providing guidance and a useful platform for more cross-sectorial activities and more deliverables. Additionally, there are at least three main aspects to be reflected upon.

First, the variety of relations, including of EU’s relations with the countries in the region, as well as the difficulties and tensions that exist between the countries around the Black Sea should be considered. EU meets in the Black Sea region one EU candidate country, Turkey, a global player, Russian Federation and Eastern Partnership countries, Georgia, Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Secondly, the other cooperation frameworks in the region should be taken into account. EU developed during the last 10 years its engagement with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation (BSEC). Starting 2007, EU has the status of permanent observer and participates in meetings at the level of Ministers, senior officials and working groups organized by BSEC. Additionally, in the environmental field, the Black Sea Commission is an important player, and the EU hopes to be accepted as a full member.

Thirdly and most importantly, the EU’s assets, the opportunities offered by the Lisbon Treaty, and the elements of the EU Global Strategy and the reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy should be used and brought together, to ensure coherence within the internal and external EU policies and instruments.

What are the expected changes in the perspective of the coming years? To what extent should the Union’s policy in the Black Sea region become one of Romania’s priorities on the occasion of the presidency of the EU Council in 2019?

The significance of the Black Sea region is growing and the efforts of the regional cooperation should be intensified in order to be able to build a common area of security and prosperity. Thus, a reinvigorated Black Sea Synergy could provide great opportunities to develop practical cooperation and to foster dialogue between the EU and the countries in the region, including the two important stakeholders, Russian Federation and Turkey.

Starting January 2018, with the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council and extending until the Romanian Presidency, the visibility of the Black Sea region, including the regional cooperation aspects, is expected to be substantially enhanced.  Reducing the discrepancies of all kinds within the Black Sea region will remain the major challenge. Making the EU constructive role more visible and widely known across the region would be also an objective to work on.

Designing the programme and the priorities of the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council in 2019 is the responsibility of Bucharest. But, as in all the cases, the diplomatic dialogue on the subject has already started and the EU Institutions will provide the needed support for realization of the future programme. The traditionally engagement of Romania towards the Black Sea region and its sustainable development and improved connectivity will surely be strongly reflected in Bucharest’s priorities.

În loc de încheiere, doresc să transmit calde felicitări României şi cetățenilor ei în perspectiva centenarului din 2018. La mulți ani!

Boris Iarochevitch



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