As I have entered this last month of my tenure at the International Secretariat of the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (“BSEC PERMIS”), perhaps , this would be an appropriate time for me to write this “long letter” - in my personal capacity as well as that of Secretary General. I think it would be timely to review a number of developments within our Organization over these past eighteen months as well as share with you certain reflections and observations about the Region at large and BSEC in particular.
I have already had the honor to send a letter to H.E. Abdullah GUL, the Foreign Minister of Turkey - the BSEC host country and received from him an encouraging reply about Turkey’s strategic vision regarding the perspectives of our Organization.
At first glance, it may seem that my brief term in office was too short a period to reach these conclusions, however, I would like to remind you, respectfully, that I am not a newcomer to BSEC: I have been either directly involved or a close observer of developments within the Organization since its inception in 1992.
The strategic and regional landscape has changed, radically, between the time BSEC was founded and today. In the broadest sense, the Wider Black Sea region (which through BSEC embraces, partially, the Caspian Sea Basin as well as some segments of the Balkans) can no longer be considered in isolation from the larger important dynamics emerging around us. While the Black Sea was once a road to “somewhere else”, today it is a vital crossroad in its own right and a place where things happening elsewhere intersect and impact tens of millions of people.
The Black Sea is a critical node in the strategies not only of the littoral States, but has also become integral to the evolving policies and strategies of the States of the Eurasian landmass, the Mediterranean, the Greater Middle East and Europe.
The Black Sea Region has become the European Union’s “near abroad”. In the next few years, BSEC Member States such as Romania and Bulgaria are due to transition to a full EU membership, while Turkey is already deeply immersed in the EU accession process.
This next expansion of the EU borders will make the Black Sea the European Union’s body of water. Many other Member States of BSEC are subject to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and it is obvious that, as these changes take place, interest in the Region from the United States, Japan, China and other countries beyond the Black Sea region cannot be far behind, if not in fact already here.
BSEC needs to respond to this new strategic road map in ways that are appropriate to our objectives and the Charter of the Organization, keeping in mind that the Founding Fathers of BSEC envisioned this institution as dynamic and within the context of permanent progress and adjustment – not as a rigid monument to their intellectual capacity.
Changes and recalibration are the basic and essential elements in the daily activities of BSEC and all fundamental BSEC documents outlining its operating framework are intended to serve only these critical objectives.
By all means, BSEC has matured and developed into a full-fledged and respected multi-lateral Organization, with its unique and important international and Regional outlook. BSEC has developed its own vision and visibility with focus on the execution of realistic issue – oriented activities. BSEC has become more visible to the outside world and the awareness of the international community with respect to the activities of our Organization (BSEC’s interconnection with other international institutions) has, recently, been modestly increased.
We all can be proud of the many accomplishments BSEC has achieved in recent years.
However, it appears that it is time for us to focus more on what we could have accomplished but failed to do due to some well- known or, as yet, unclear reasons. We need to focus, mainly, on how to tune and fit BSEC to these new developments in the world and delineate obstacles that hamper the proper functioning of our Organization.
Though I also recognize, clearly, that there are always many different “understandings” and interpretations of the goals of the Organization, - including, of course, its functions and agenda among the BSEC Member States and its related bodies. So consider my thoughts just as ideas expressed by one of many friends and supporters of BSEC – an individual who is truly concerned about the fate and perspectives of this exclusively unique institution – an entity which has accumulated since its establishment legal, institutional and structural capacity and attributes which need to be utilized in an appropriate manner and according to the prevailing realities and trends of modern world affairs.
At the beginning of November 2005 when I became Secretary General of BSEC PERMIS, I must acknowledge that I had grave reservations about the day-to-day relevance of our Organization. This was not a view I developed in isolation. It was one that was reflected in many conversations with officials and observers from Turkey and other Member States, as well as from my correspondence with experts and analysts from other parts of Europe, the United States and Asia.
It was disappointing to learn that, except for a small coterie of Black Sea area pundits and diplomats from the Member States, few people even knew of BSEC’s existence while many of those who had heard of the Organization believed it was moribund, at best.
Perhaps, some of the pessimism I encountered stemmed from the then seemingly inexorable expansion and growing influence of the European Union into the Black Sea region, and a sense that the Black Sea region’s and specifically BSEC’s role would be effectively eclipsed by the EU ?
Perhaps, within our own Member States many could not see the relevance of BSEC in the economic and political development of their respective countries and preferred to be engaged in more efficient and effective bilateral frameworks?
And, perhaps, some of this pessimism could be traced back to BSEC’s reluctance to even discuss many sensitive issues (such as the persistence of frozen conflicts and disputes in the Black Sea region), which have done and continue to do so much damage to the external perceptions of the Region and to its investment climate and economic prospects ?
In today’s intensely competitive international economic environment, the concepts of “development” and “security” are intertwined and can no longer be viewed as separate subjects.
Whatever the exact causes, the pessimism was tangible and real.
But I am happy to report that over the course of my tenure, I have detected that some, though not all, of that pessimism, has dissipated. The political disarray within the EU and the consequent confusion over its future role and involvement in the Region has certainly played a part.
Perhaps, that has forced some people to think more seriously about alternative structures and institutions to enhance stability and encourage economic growth. The growing trade between certain Member States (Turkey and Russia, of course, being the most dramatic example) and the Region’s emergence as a strategic energy corridor may have caused some observers to review their previous positions concerning BSEC’s relevance in today’s world.
But there has also been, in my view, a psychological and existential change in how many external actors and observers perceive the Region. Perhaps now, for the first time, they are finally beginning to see it as a true “Region”- with a capital R -, in which many issues of mutual interest must be dealt with regionally as well as on a national, bilateral level.
BSEC, as its name implies, is deliberately “non-political” and its priorities lie in economic issues. But purely “political” issues such as unresolved conflicts and disputes within the BESC Member States, as noted above, are the greatest impediment and barrier to BSEC’s designated role to promote sustainable economic development among its Member States. That is why we need to focus again attention of the Organization to these problems and find an appropriate context within which to discuss and, hopefully, resolve these pressing concerns.
Of course, we know that the UN and OSCE have the primary responsibility for dealing directly with political and security aspects of emerging or lingering regional conflicts and disputes, yet everyone engaged in economic development in the BSEC region knows that political solutions are a pre-requisite to long-term success. Inflows of foreign direct investment in the Black Sea area are low relative to other Regions in large part because of these on-going conflicts and disputes. This, in turn, translates directly and concretely into jobs and lost opportunities for the peoples of the broad Black Sea Region.
Good politics make good economics, and vice versa, while political stalemate invites economic stagnation.
But how can our Organization contribute? What is appropriate and possible? How can BSEC best leverage its unique position and expertise in a way that significantly advances the Organization’s mission without making it unmanageable or embroiling it in intractable political disputes?
We have posed these questions before (in our formal and informal meetings) but did not find adequate answers - though the UN has offered a general model throughout the world that should be based on three pillars: sustainable development, security and good governance (i.e., transparent democratic institutions appropriate to individual States’ circumstances, traditions and cultures).
In order to resolve these sensitive issues and accomplish BSEC objectives, we all need to find internal resources to redefine and recharge our Organization, reassess its potential, reformulate and reformat its agenda and goals and to re-draft some segments of the BSEC Charter, tuning them, as I mentioned earlier, to the new strategic realities in the Black Sea region and beyond. If BSEC is to adjust and adapt to the changing political landscape, live up its potential, implement appropriate structural and personnel changes and engage other international institutions and bodies to take part in this process, BSEC will, at the very outset, need to re – invent itself.
It is ironic that at a time when international interest in our Region is expanding by the day, the premier Regional international organization faces a distinct danger of being incapacitated and rendered irrelevant by internal disputes, sometimes of its own making. These include an over–bureaucratized procedures and debates which are never resolved, whether about the problems of the BSEC PERMIS budget or the salary adjustment of its personnel, the ineffective and irrational BSEC budgeting cycle we employ or issues such as BSEC business trips when we prefer in our analyses to concentrate more on the quantity of these trips than accomplished results for our Organization ( though it’s more than obvious that “the BSEC business trips” are supposed to be strictly only about the BSEC business and Organization’s promotion); or the essence of the BSEC reserve fund, the efficiency of the BSEC Working Groups or the effectiveness and financial capacity and productivity of the Project Development Fund (“PDF”) and its interaction with the same BSEC Working Groups which are supposed to become a primary source of the PDF with concrete and practical ideas.
We need to transform the BSEC PERMIS – our Organization’s institutional memory- into a more competent, efficient and project – oriented structure that will be able to take advantage of growing international interest towards the Black Sea region. We need to engage in the activities of the BSEC PERMIS a highly qualified cadre of professionals and base the selection process for the vacancies in the Secretariat on the competitive quality of the applicants and not only on their national identity or country representation.
We should create an efficient mechanism to monitor the implementation of adopted BSEC decisions or even make the changes or modifications that are so urgent to be accomplished to update the “Blue Book” of BSEC - its Charter.
I understand that it would be a Sisyphean toil but we need to re-think the entire decision- making process in BSEC based on a veto system – euphemistically known as the “consensus rule” – that frequently offers a Faustian bargain and operates on the “everybody against everybody” principle.
We need to create the post of Secretary General of entire BSEC and make it a truly meaningful one in order to increase the accountability, efficiency and coordination within the BSEC system.
And, of course, any attempts to change or reorganize BSEC should not be interpreted as some sort of “power play” but as an obvious need to improve our efficiency and accountability.
Again the UN reform effort should serve as guidance, accordingly where the UN Secretary General acts more as a fully – accountable corporate chief executive than as an inefficient and UN – empowered interlocutor (which frequently happens in the case of Secretary General of the BSEC PERMIS).
As I said earlier, I again would like to propose (as has been suggested by my predecessors) to create within BSEC PERMIS or affiliated personally with the Secretary General, a small planning Group of “Wise Men” on an ad hoc basis and whose purpose would be threefold. First, the Group would develop ideas and concepts of BSEC activities that could be brought to the whole body for deliberation. Second, this Group would be responsible for eliciting ideas from the Member States and then, alongside with the BSEC Related Bodies, elaborating them for fuller discussions. The Group would also prepare a brief of proposed future opportunities, challenges and risk assessments for the BSEC Ministerials and Summits.
Why not to engage in this Group, alongside other experts, for example, former Secretary Generals of BSEC PERMIS who accumulated such an immeasurable amount of practical experience ?
On 11 April 2006, the BSEC Committee of Senior Officials got together in Brussels to continue its dialogue with EU officials. We all need to be grateful to the MFA of Romania, a current Chairman at BSEC and the Government of the Hellenic Republic for the continued enthusiasm to establish an appropriate channel of communication between our Organization and the EU.
But let me share with you just a number of personal, though perhaps, polemical observations, regarding the EU – BSEC interaction perspectives.
We are taking the first steps on this long and sometimes frustrating - for BSEC - road. By all means, we need to highly appreciate advice and efforts of the Government of the Hellenic Republic in this regard outlined recently in the Concept of their Presidency at BSEC and acknowledge specifically the Concept of an EU Regional Dimension elaborated by the MFA of Greece.
Maybe we also need to look at ourselves more critically and recognize that there may be a sense in some quarters of the EU that BSEC is not, particularly, relevant? Maybe we need to put ourselves into the EU’s shoes and look at BSEC from the perspectives of the EU and try to determine the sources of this deep-seated wariness that the EU has towards our Region and target these “ideas” promptly and effectively?
I realize that such an assessment may appear harsh and pessimistic. But, perhaps, the seeds of our strategy towards the EU can be discerned in it as well since, ultimately, it is events on the ground that will drive and shape EU’s policy towards the Region. We need to get within the EU’s “decision-making cycle” and the ensuing BSEC engagement strategy should be built around serving the self–interests of the European Union. Perhaps, then, BSEC stands the best chance of real relevancy and success.
This strategy would also serve the best interests of BSEC Member States, both those that are candidates for accession and those that may be considered – even if just hypothetically- for this status in the foreseeable future.
In short, BSEC must be seen in Brussels as an essential enabler of the Neighborhood Policy that can help deliver the relationships and programs it will need to be effective from an EU perspective. In so doing BSEC does not “sell-out” its role of promoting the self-interests of its Members - rather quite the opposite, it actually positions itself to enhance that responsibility.
Again, BSEC needs to be more innovative in its strategy towards the EU and us all at BSEC need to digest one obvious strategic fact on the ground: the process of fashioning closer ties to Europe is, I believe, inevitable and inescapable for the entire Black Sea region and BSEC. And managing and understanding that development (which supposed to be a two-way process) will be a priority for all BSEC Member States, irrespective of the eventual individual political relations that emerge over time. The EU expansion towards the Black Sea is irreversible and BSEC needs to find the most appropriate ways to benefit from it and help the European Union to “understand “its efficiency for the long- term European security perspectives.
We need to recognize one additional and, perhaps, obvious fact: the EU’s allure and perceived attraction continues to exert such power and influence and serves as some sort of “psychological anchor”, especially for those BSEC Member States who did not make the EU’s next enlargement cycle short list.
The EU remains engaged, as I noted above, into still - evolving the ENP format which seeks to reward, in some still ill - defined way, those countries that embrace so-called “European norms and values” - although this policy clearly lacks a regional – i.e., the Black Sea - dimension and sensitivity.
While this may not be an exemplary state of affairs, do we really have a truly viable alternative? Or for that matter any alternative - given the way our own Member States often react to each other’s foibles with petty and self-defeating retaliatory measures?
Even as globalization takes root in our Region and begins to affect the daily lives of our populations, a countervailing force of unilateralism has emerged. That is perhaps understandable as each of our Member States grapples with its relations with the rest of Europe and the wider world. But unilateralism should not prevent our Member States from exploiting intra – regional opportunities or benefiting from greater cooperation.
We need to broaden BSEC’s vision and focus on areas where it can provide real and tangible results for our populations. As important as they are, and as admitted above, we must not let existing practices and legal frameworks hamper our ability to respond to the changing circumstances or to undermine our ability to implement the positive and inspiring principles upon which BSEC is ultimately based.
It seems to me that developments within BSEC are often too much in the hands of “experts”. But most of those “experts” have never built a business enterprise or met a payroll. Investment bankers are often seen as the storm troopers of globalization. One idea which I would like to share with you on how to re - charge our activities (and make them open to the outside world) would be to second, for example, EU-based investment bankers for say three to six month periods to particular regions of individual BSEC Member States. There, they could evaluate opportunities to create businesses with the potential to serve niche markets in Europe and report back about their observations and reflections to BSEC’s superior bodies.
BSEC needs to use its regional outlook to foster what could be called a high-level globalization “early warning system” and communicate its views as widely as possible. The only limit to our ability to innovate and re - energize the activities of BSEC should be our intellectual capacity, transparent and honest interpretation of our rules and procedures and interaction to seek sound compromise.
But these goals could be accomplished only with the increased political will and interest of the Governments of the BSEC Member States towards our Organization; the BSEC PERMIS and other BSEC related bodies could be only initiators of these reforms. Only the BSEC Member States are able and have the capacity to implement them into practice. An urgent priority is to demonstrate to the Government’s of the BSEC Member States that BSEC is a vital and viable Organization that is relevant to their ultimate goals and ambitions.
BSEC is moving forward. So, yes, I do see progress and I am heartened by what I see.
But this does not mean that problems and difficulties are diminishing. In fact our progress presents us with further challenges which will multiply and become more complex. To move further we need new ideas, new energy and new impulses.
To progress and move ahead we need money which, by the way, could be available from different financial institutions and donors but only in case if BSEC itself is reformed and innovated and creates the accountable and transparent mechanisms which will execute new programs and initiatives.
We all need to demonstrate more creativity and innovation. Areas such as using the Region’s rich legacy and diversity of cultural heritage as an agent of economic change and development must be assessed and acted upon in a timely manner.
We must always remember that BSEC was founded by the Founding Fathers as an Organization to serve the people of our Member States through the creation of regional and sub – regional business networks, helping both SMEs and larger enterprises to enhance their efficiency and implement this capacity in our Region.
Advances in the rule of law and good governance would be irreversible guarantees for sustainable economic development in the Black Sea region. We have the means and the expertise to do so. To do anything less would be tantamount to the betrayal of the vision of the Founding Fathers and an irresponsible abandonment of the hopes and aspirations of our peoples.
Who will take this burden of BSEC’s “re-invention” upon itself? Turkey, as it did in a so innovative way in 1992? Russia, with its unique intellectual and natural potential and an up-coming Chairman of BSEC with a more than interesting Calendar of Events for the next six months? Or the Hellenic Republic, the only EU Member to this date and which, as I noted above, has made the most resolute and qualitative steps to bring BSEC closer to the European Union in the prior history of our Organization? Or, perhaps, other Members of the BSEC family?
I think that the best results on this fascinatingly interesting reformist journey would be accomplished through joint and collective efforts of all BSEC Member States.
At the conclusion of this letter, I would like to take the opportunity of publicly thanking those who have been integral to BSEC’s progress and are likely to respond to future challenges.
BSEC Permanent International SecretariatTedo Japaridze