Speech by Dr. Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, Director General of the International Centre for Black Sea Studies (ICBSS), on the occasion of the celebration of the 'BSEC Day'

Athens, Tuesday 18 July 2006

Let us fast forward to June 2007.

The BSEC 15th year Anniversary Summit is in full swing in Istanbul . Heads of State and Government of the BSEC's 12 member states are present as are their counterparts from the observer states including the President of the United States, the Chancellor of Germany who also represents the Presidency of the European Union, the Presidents of France and Italy are there among others as well as the British Prime Minister whose country has just been accepted as an observer. The European Commission is represented by its President. The HR for CFSP Javier Solana and the heads of a number of other international organizations have also been sighted.

The Summit is not only a glitzy affair attended by top political elite of Europe and the United States . It is also one where the BSEC concretises work on a number of issues.

1) For one, the BSEC member states sign on to a clear common perception of the organisation’s identity while the rest of the world recognizes the BSEC as the only legitimate organisation and initiative representing the wider region’s interests.

2) The BSEC and the European Union formally upgrade their relationship bringing into fruition the efforts of the BSEC member states encapsulated by the Chisinau Ministerial of October 2005 and the efforts of the Hellenic Republic in the EU. The ICBSS also receives special mention for its work and role in successfully coordinating the ad hoc Group of Exprts on BSEC-EU Interaction and for advocating the cause where and when it could.

3) There is progress in the field of energy as the BSEC Member States encouraged by the G8 Statement of July 2006 on “Global Energy Security” do their utmost to cooperate in this field as energy suppliers, transit states and consumers overcome their differences and contribute in the efficient functioning of the global energy system.

4) In turn, their cooperation in the fields of energy creates synergies in the fields of transport, good governance, tourism, trade and economic development, and Science and technology with the signing of a series of binding agreements in the aforementioned issue specific fields.

In other words, the Istanbul Summit of June 2007 recognises that “sleeping beauty” has finally awakened and that it represents a successful model of regional cooperation.

It is time for a reality check – Are all of the above possible or has this been simply wishful thinking on the part of an academic who is out of touch with the dynamics of the region?

Where do we stand today?

The wider Black Sea region is acquiring greater significance in today’s world and provides for an interesting case study for a variety of reasons. It is becoming increasingly important to Europe , the United States , and other major powers such as Russia as a key transit area for energy supply and as a line of defence against many transnational threats. It is also home to a number of unresolved problems of the post-Soviet era, known as “frozen conflicts”, such as those within Moldova (Transnistria), Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and between Armenia and Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh). It is also important for international organisations such as the European Union (EU) and NATO, which aim to make the areas beyond their external borders relatively stable, while attempting to address the demands for further enlargement from their new neighbours across Central Europe and the Black Sea region. Last but not least, it finds itself in the midst of a region-building process. It is the combination of the aforementioned issues that has placed the region in the focus of international relations.

The question of region-building is one which has risen in prominence in the post Cold War era as the end of bipolarity has fundamentally affected the world order. According to Joe Nye, region-building may be defined as the formation of interstate groupings on the basis of a region, whereas a region implies a limited number of states linked together by a geographical relationship and by a degree of mutual interdependence. In other words, region-building is a political concept which has to do with the quest for specific identity and is linked to the realities of the global and regional order. In 1992, Ole Waever clearly defined the region-building dynamics when he wrote, “Does the Baltic Sea Region exist? Not yet. But it soon will.”

The rise of new regionalism can be attributed to a series of factors such as the end of the Cold War which has led to the development of new attitudes towards international co-operation and a decentralization of the international system. Other relevant factors include the process of global economic change which has increased the relevance of economic cooperation on a regional basis (as the model and development of the European Community has shown); the end of a third pole consisting of the Third World countries or the non-aligned movement; and finally the spread of democratization to the former Comecon or Warsaw Pact countries and to Latin America.

Attempting to enhance cooperative security has also become the order of the day. Though the term has hard security connotations that in the post-9/11 world are linked to fighting terrorism, its key characteristics such as mutual trust, shared benefits, equality, and cooperation producing tangible results for all nations, also apply to the Black Sea region.

The EU is currently mulling over a Black Sea region dimension as it is about to become a Black Sea power following the imminent accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. The pull of EU “interest” from the region (for it can only be described as such given the limits of further EU integration) is threatening to unravel the regional cohesion which has been in place since 1992. A group of 11 (now 12) littoral states and states belonging in the wider Black Sea region have been cooperating in a fairly advanced institutional framework called the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). [1] The dangers of diluting an established regional identity stems from the fact that, to date, the EU has favoured bilateral relations with its neighbours through the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) as opposed to a regional approach.

The BSEC has many merits as a regional partner. Despite its limited resources and the heterogeneity of it membership, the BSEC has concrete achievements to show. First, it has built a permanent an extensive institutional framework of cooperation that covers all levels of governance (intergovernmental, parliamentary, and financial). Second, it has cultivated a spirit of cooperation among its member states, providing a forum for constant dialogue, exchange of ideas and experiences. Third, it has successfully elaborated binding agreements and common action plans on key issues of regional cooperation (some 33 to date). Finally, as the BSEC is conceived an economic organisation , trade and economic cooperation (especially cross-border activities, trade facilitation and creation of favorable conditions for investment) are identified as areas of potential interface with EU’s policies.

Apart from its bilateral focus, the EU is currently faced with a number of dilemmas as a result of pressure from many of its neighbours to enlarge and of its own internal gridlock regarding the future of Europe . The ENP recipients to the East ( Ukraine , Moldova , Georgia, Armenia , Azerbaijan , and Belarus ) stretch the imagined political and geographical limits of the European Union. The questions that arise are many: Are there concrete alternatives to enlargement? Can/should the EU embark on further enlargement processes? Can/should it keep its neighbours indefinitely outside? And most importantly: Is there no other way to approach this dilemma? Also important is the level and type of relationship with Russia . In other words, do the Four Common Spaces with Russia adequately address relations between the two sides or does the need for a different framework arise?

Similarly, on the security front NATO faces serious predicaments as its approach is one favouring privileged relations with some Black Sea states (such as Ukraine and Georgia ) rather than a regional one. As a Euro-Atlantic strategy toward the wider Black Sea region is debated, NATO’s geographical limits are severely tested at a time when it seeks allies among Black Sea and Central Asian countries to provide logistical support, notably for its expanded operations in Afghanistan .

As a result, the wider Black Sea region has witnessed the rise of a series of competing regional initiatives which probably complicate the security environment as they express the divergent interests of littoral states and their neighbours. While some coincide with the interests of NATO members, others reflect a specific security agenda.

Within this context, the issues of energy, transnational threats and “frozen conflicts” need to be properly assessed. The “frozen conflicts” not only drain economic resources and political energies from weak and poor countries; they also generate corruption and organised crime, prevent the consolidation of the rule of law and enhance instability across the region. This in turn complicates the geopolitics of energy supplies for the EU, the US and other major actors. For example, the EU energy dependency offers a sobering picture: by 2030, 90% of oil, 60% of gas, and 66% of coal consumption will have to be covered by imports. Given the fact that the largest oil and gas reserves are situated in politically or economically insecure regions such as the Middle East and the EU’s eastern neighbourhood, it becomes imperative to pay greater attention to developments in and around the Black Sea region.

The growing interest in the region and the interplay of the various local, regional and international actors in and around the region suggest the need for clear, concise and precise analytical tools in order to understand better the various processes at play. These also imply the definition of clear strategies on how to proceed, given the different agendas of state, transnational and non-state actors and the plethora of issues and concerns that shape the region. A key question is how to build new bridges without destroying the regional cohesion that has been in place for years. A starting point acceptable to all could be to focus on issues such as the rule of law, institutional renewal and good governance in order to reduce further instability. Another issue that calls for attention as an immediate priority is to engage in concerted conflict management and resolution of the various frozen conflicts. This exercise can only be successful with the participation of all interested actors – the EU, NATO, the US and Russia . Finally, the European Union needs to awaken to regional realities and to use the opportunity to enhance its relations not only with the individual countries of the region but also with the Black Sea space as such. In 2005, the BSEC and its member states stated their intentions to further enhance interaction with the EU. Greece as the only member of both organisations took the lead in trying to bring this initiative to fruition. A secure and prosperous Black Sea region in the immediate vicinity of the EU can only become a reality if Brussels adopts a comprehensive regional approach. Hopefully, with Athens ’ urging, the EU will act accordingly.

Back to the future

The BSEC needs to awaken. It possesses the institutional wherewithal; it needs, though, the political commitment and a shared sense of vision. Maybe June 2007 is too close for the BSEC to show substantive progress on the issues raised at the beginning of this presentation. It is after all a year from now. Maybe the 20th Anniversary Summit of June 2012 is a far more realistic date. As the wider region’s importance grows, the BSEC needs to ensure that the mechanisms of regional cooperation it put in place in the early 1990s are able to cope with the growing influence of the wider Black Sea region. I have faith that it will and that its member states will rise to the challenge.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou

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