“The Black Sea… is a European sea”. Opportunities and conditions for a new cooperation

Black Sea

That the Black Sea is a European sea is an explicit affirmation that can be found in various documents of the Commission and the European Parliament approved in the years 2007-2008 on the occasion of the official entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Union. As an example valid for all cases, it is possible to address the communication from the European Commission “Black Sea Synergy – bringing the region closer to the EU” (COM(2007)160 def.) in which the sea in question is formally recognized as a “European sea” and as unique with the Mediterranean Sea.

“The Black Sea… is a European sea”

The Greek Ambassador Michael B. Christides, Secretary General of the Permanent International Secretariat of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC), referred to these political guidelines of the EU during the conference promoted by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) on May 27, 2021, during which the real state of the economic integration process of the Mediterranean area was analysed in depth.

BSEC in the Black Sea

Ambassador Christides, this is the point to underline, took the opportunity to recall and illustrate the value of this institution of international cooperation to the conference participants. The BSEC, which is little known to public opinion, but which has nevertheless been active since 1992, is an important tool to overcome the contradictory situation that characterizes the area concerned. On the one hand, in fact, the states that gravitate towards the Black Sea have experienced in recent years, and in part continue to live, great political tensions and even military conflicts; but, on the other hand, they have continued to operate in synergy and to support, for many years now, a common instrument of cooperation that actively intervenes in the economic, social and environmental fields. Therefore, linking the initiatives that the EU intends to implement in the Mediterranean to those that the BSEC promotes in the Black Sea could offer a great opportunity to relaunch Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in more complete and effective terms and, at the same time, contribute to reducing tensions in the Black Sea area with a greater impetus for common development.

An economic organization in the Black Sea

In this regard, it is important to remember that the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) was established on 25 June 1992, when the Heads of State and Government of eleven countries interested in the development of the area signed the “Summit Declaration” and the “Bosphorus Declaration”. This body was born as a model of multilateral political and economic initiative, aimed at promoting interaction and harmony between member states, as well as guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity, encouraging friendly and good neighbourly relations in the Black Sea region. Along with the entry into force of its founding charter on 1 May 1999, the BSEC acquired an international legal identity and transformed itself into a full-fledged regional economic organization. Over time, the Organization has better defined and achieved its identity and autonomy by setting up and managing, for example, an investment bank and promoting projects of common interest. Despite, we repeat, the numerous local political and military conflicts that have occurred over time, the member states of the BSEC are currently active and participating in this international institution.

These States, among which three members of the EU, are: Republic of Albania, Republic of Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan, Republic of Bulgaria, Georgia, Hellenic Republic, Republic of Moldova, Republic of North Macedonia, Romania, Russian Federation, Republic of Serbia, Republic of Turkey, Ukraine.

The hope is that a more intense and stronger cooperation relationship between the EU and BSEC can be built to help remove many obstacles still existing to collaboration between states, generating greater mutual trust and tackling together the serious common challenges linked to, for example, the sustainability of development, environmental protection, climate change.

The renewed interest of the EU in the Black Sea

Several important and positive signals have come from the EU in this regard, especially in recent years. After a long period that it is not out of place to define “silence” or “inattention” on the common problems of the Mediterranean Sea-Black Sea. A decade after the documents approved in 2007-2008, the EU has renewed its interest, as demonstrated by the publication of important studies, reports, recommendations, which took place, in particular, in 2019 and 2020:

  1. the research program “Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda for the Black Sea” (SRIA), of high scientific value, launched in 2018 by the European Commission in agreement with the Black Sea States, in order to “promote a shared vision for a productive, healthy, resilient and sustainable Black Sea by 2030, taking into account its special and unique ecosystem characteristics. In particular, its unique biodiversity, the sites of the cultural heritage and new local, national and cross-border political measures”;
  2. the report (working document) published by the Commission in 2019, “Joint staff working document. Black Sea Synergy: review of a regional cooperation initiative – period 2015-2018”. In particular, the report illustrates how the region has great potential for interconnectivity both within the EU and between continents, considering the connecting role of the Black Sea basin mentioned in the 2018 EU communication on “Connecting Europe and Asia: fundamental elements for an EU strategy”. Other areas of intervention that offer opportunities for future cooperation concern social affairs, employment and trade;
  3. the “Common maritime agenda for the Black Sea” approved by the Commission in 2019 which was strengthened by the “Sofia Declaration”, also in 2019, approved by a summit ministerial of five states (Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey) with the European Commission to regulate fishing activities and protect the marine environment;
  4. again in 2019 there has been an important political position taken by the European Council with the approval of the document “Council Conclusions on the EU’s engagement to the Black Sea regional cooperation” which provides guidelines on sustainable development and future policy proposals. The most relevant points of the document are the ones in which it is stated that the Council “will examine a more substantial revision of the EU policy towards the Black Sea, where necessary” and where “it encourages the High Representative and the European Commission to take into due consideration the Synergy of the Black Sea in the future programming of financial and technical cooperation”.

From these, as from other recent documents, it is possible to deduce how, to date, the Black Sea region still represents an area of social, economic and political interest for the EU. It remains to be understood which relationship the EU could relaunch with the BSEC to build further opportunities for integration and growth between the two seas.

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*Riccardo Testa, Eurispes, Dipartimento Internazionale – Università LUMSA

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