THE BLACK SEA REGION
IN THE CONTEXT OF COOPERATION IN SOUTH-EAST EUROPE
“Problems and Perspectives of South-East European Countries Cooperation within the Frames of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)”, Sevastopol, 19 September 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to express my pleasure to address this distinguished gathering. I would also like to thank the organizers for this timely event. I fully appreciate their initiative to raise the issue of the perspectives of South-East European countries’ cooperation in the framework of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Especially at a time when important developments are taking place in this region; this discussion provides a good opportunity for a frank discussion.
South-East Europe and the Black Sea region
In the course of last decades, the South-East Europe and the Black Sea region have acquired further importance in international politics. Following the end of the Cold War there has been significant changes in South-East Europe and the Black Sea region. On one hand, some countries gained the freedom to pursue their foreign policy without the obligations of the Bloc politics. On the other hand, many newly independent states joined the ranks of the regional countries. Moreover, a number of non-regional countries intensified their interest in the region as well.
Now, the South-East Europe and the Black Sea region are not what they used to be at the second half of the last century. The contacts amongst the countries of region are abundant in numerous areas. Depending on the point of view, the borders in the region can serve today not only as an access points to the other countries, but also as points of entry to the European Union, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia and even the Middle East.
Peace and stability in South-East Europe and the Black Sea region
We must not forget that this transition was not altogether a smooth process. Especially in the Balkans and the Caucasus, regional conflicts which escalated to armed confrontation were unfortunate chapters of this transition. Although these armed conflicts have been stopped, frozen conflicts and their potential to escalate stubbornly persist. Nevertheless, presently, there is, in general terms, a certain level of stability in the region.
The peace and stability in the South-East Europe and the Black Sea region is not only a matter of concern for the regional countries. If the stability is weakened in the region, its impact is to be felt beyond the region.
The main actors to achieve peace and stability are the regional states. Primarily, these states are in a position to cooperate for the benefit of their own region. Of course, other interested countries can contribute to this process, but the main driving force should be the common consent of the regional countries and the contributions of the other interested parties should be obtained in compliance with this consent.
Economic Cooperation in South-East Europe and the Black Sea region
All the countries in the region understandingly seek economic development and better conditions. It is difficult to achieve economic growth in an unstable environment. Nobody wins in such a situation. So, efforts aimed at achieving more stability and predictability in the region will indeed contribute to the wealth of all the peoples of the region.
There already is a vast economic potential in the region. Apart from the agricultural potential and the industrial infrastructure with a sturdy production capability, the dynamic and skilled population of the region is another factor to be taken into consideration. Furthermore, the energy resources and the transportation routes in and in the proximity of the region enhance this economic potential.
As we all know, there are several regional initiatives, as well as regional and non-regional international organizations addressing various political, economic and security issues concerning the region. This proliferation underlines the importance attached to regional and international cooperation by the countries of the region.
Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) experience
In this context, I would like to focus on the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). This organization provides an appropriate pattern and a case study for cooperation in the region. Moreover, it is not simply a model of past experience; it is an operational, full-fledged regional organization. I believe the experience that we have acquired through the BSEC can also be useful in the context of South-East Europe.
The BSEC experience provides important lessons regarding the regional cooperation in the Black Sea area. The BSEC was initiated as a forum to facilitate economic relations and stimulate private sector in the region. The existing commitments of the members were respected. The BSEC was not an alternative to other regional integration frameworks; it was a complementary scheme. So, the agreement was easily reached on the basics. As a result of emerging needs, the scope of the cooperation was extended at later stages. Now the organisation is the most inclusive and the only full-fledged economic cooperation organisation in the region. It has a unique potential to develop collaboration among its members in a whole range of areas from energy, environment, transport to the fight against organised crime.
Turkey as a founder did not want to render the BSEC an “exclusive club” comprised only of the coastal countries of the Black Sea. However, it could not expand indefinitely to distant countries either. Therefore, the compromise was to have the countries that are the present BSEC members.
It should be borne in mind that the BSEC was an economic cooperation initiative and it has been active in this field; consequently, political cooperation has not been within the scope of this organisation. Nevertheless, as an organisation aiming at economic cooperation and facilitation of trade and investments, it indirectly contributes to political cooperation. One should also take into account the economic growth and increasing wealth in the regions that, to a certain extent, have been successful in the resolution of conflicts. The basis of stability and peace is confidence. Better economic relations and interdependence is, in most cases, one of the main ingredients of better relations between countries. Similarly, mutually beneficial economic ties diminish the potential threats to security.
Shortcomings of the BSEC
It cannot be claimed that the BSEC has met all the expectations in its 17 years of existence. However, a new spirit of cooperation has started to emerge between the member states. Several reasons might explain why the BSEC could not achieve the desired level of effectiveness in its initial phase:
i) The conflicts that were regarded as “frozen” until recently are perhaps the most important reason;
ii) Scarcity of concrete, project-based achievements, which would have made the BSEC more meaningful to all concerned;
iii) Failure to draw up attainable short-term strategies, which might have given the Organisation more visibility and credibility;
iv) Inadequate involvement of the private sector.
These shortcomings could be attributed to the fact that the BSEC was the first example of an institutionalised and widely inclusive multilateral cooperation platform in the Black Sea region. It consists of member countries with divergent economic and social experiences, as well as different visions and agendas for their future. Furthermore, these countries’ traditions of cordial cooperation have been rather narrow. Consequently, the expectations on the part of the members have been at variance, and consensus has sometimes proven difficult to reach. Yet, the Organisation has recently achieved a discernible degree of progress thorough the concerted efforts of its members. This is due to a growing understanding among the members on the significance of the BSEC as a regional cooperation platform. There also seems to be a joint determination towards progressing in the direction of a project-oriented and result-based approach within the Organisation. These facts reveal that in its sixteen-year evolution process, the BSEC has been able to gather its members around common ideas, goals and policies which in itself are a testimony to the success of the Organisation.
The growing local and international interest in the Black Sea region imposes on the BSEC the obligation to play a more active role and the re-emerging spirit of cooperation between the members gives the BSEC the chance to respond positively to new opportunities and challenges.
The BSEC area boasts a population of 330 million inhabitants and an area of 20 million square kilometres with dynamic human potential and rich natural resources including oil and natural gas.
The BSEC needs to be restructured to ensure a more effective decision-making mechanism as well as rapid implementation of the decisions taken at the top. This restructuring cannot be achieved by amending the regulations or by adopting a number of decisions. Instead, the BSEC should be transformed into an organisation with a certain degree of flexibility to be able to respond quickly to new challenges in an ever-changing global environment.
Another main pillar is the endorsement of a sector-by-sector approach, which will also correspond to the project-oriented vision that the BSEC has recently adopted. At the level of a given sector, priority should be assigned to making further progress in the fields of trade and investment, transport, energy, environment and combating organised crime.
European Union and the BSEC / the Black Sea Synergy
In case more ambitious targets are espoused in the economic cooperation, the support of the EU may be indispensable. The EU has a legitimate interest in the region especially after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania and successive disruptions in energy supply. The Black Sea Synergy seems to be conceived as an instrument to translate this interest into action. However there are two uncertainties here:
– Firstly we do not have a clear idea of what the Synergy consists of. The framework is there, but the content is not clear enough.
– Secondly the main actors in the Black Sea region, Russia and Turkey, are not part of the decision-making process of the EU. If these two countries are not fully involved, the chance of success will be narrowed.
The foregoing comments are valid for an economic cooperation. Now I turn to another category of cooperation.
Political or Military cooperation
If political or military dimensions are to be added to this cooperation or to the governance in the region, the conditions will be different. There are several reasons for it:
1. One of them stems from the attitude of the regional players. I do not think that the major player of the region, namely Russia, could be persuaded easily to accept the involvement of trans-Atlantic structures in the Black Sea. The other regional player, Turkey, is disillusioned on more than one occasion because of the attitude adopted by certain EU countries in the question of Turkey’s accession process to the EU. This attitude damaged the credibility of the EU in the mind of the Turkish public opinion.
2. Second reason stems from the international status of the Black Sea. The Black Sea is perhaps the only sea in the world whose status is defined by an international convention, namely the Montreux Convention. This Convention discriminates the riparian countries against the non-riparians. The size of the naval vessels that the non-riparian countries could bring in the Black Sea cannot exceed 2/3 of the size of the biggest riparian naval force in the Black Sea and their combined size cannot exceed 45000 tones in any circumstance. Furthermore they cannot stay in the Black Sea more than 21 days.
These constraints will of course limit the projection of power of a non-riparian State in the Black Sea and as a consequence of this, its capacity to influence the developments in the region will be restricted.
The Montreux Convention
Russia and Turkey have a special status in this equation:
a) Firstly because of the provisions of the Montreux Convention:
– Russia has the largest naval presence in the Black Sea; therefore any country that is not a riparian cannot bring into the Black Sea a naval presence that exceeds 2/3 of the Russian naval force.
– Turkey is, in a sense, the custodian of the Montreux Convention, because the implementation of the provisions of this Convention has to be monitored by Turkey since the naval forces of the non-riparian countries that will enter the Black Sea will have to cross the Turkish straits.
b) Secondly because Russia and Turkey are major players in the region for reasons independent from the Montreux Convention.
– Russia is a super power even after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. It has a population that exceeds 140 million inhabitants. It possesses huge energy sources and vast territories.
– Turkey is a negotiating country with the EU. It has a population of more than 70 million inhabitants. It has young and dynamic labor force. It is the 6th biggest economy of Europe and 17th biggest economy of the world. It has a democracy that functions better than in many other countries of the region.
Role of Turkey and Russia regarding the Black Sea Synergy
In view of these features, any initiative pertaining to the Black Sea region that does not include Turkey and Russia will have a lesser chance of success.
The Black Sea Synergy may contribute to the economic cooperation to complement the shortfalls of the BSEC if the content of such accompaniment is properly defined. As to the cooperation in political or military fields, the countries of the region would need to work hard towards achieving tangible results.
South-East Europe and the Black Sea
South-East Europe and the Black Sea are inseparable and overlapping adjacent regions. Stability and prosperity in one of them will surely contribute to the other. Likewise, instability and economic problems will adversely affect both. Therefore, regional cooperation covering these regions will benefit everyone, but especially the regional countries.
We already have accumulated experience, as well as solid determination of all parties, including EU, a particularly significant actor. I am confident that as long as we manage to utilize existing structures and avoid duplicating them, the prospects for a better future for the countries and the peoples of the region will improve.