Discussion Facilitation Paper – Varna Forum 2.0: “The Black Sea: confrontation or cooperation”

18489754_814756692031894_8127828709297236270_oGeorgi Pirinski,  Member of the European Parliament, Programme Director of the Solidarity Society Foundation

Radoslav Deyanov, Expert (PhD), RAD Consulting, Economics and International Relations Institute

This paper provides a number of considerations for discussion at the Varna Forum 2.0 (2017), which relate to the merits and the prospects for elaboration and adoption of a 21-st century European Macro-Regional Strategy (MRS) for the Black Sea Region[1] (BSR). The paper builds upon the proceedings of the Varna Forum 1.0 (29 ‑ 31 May 2015) with the aim of outlining a series of actions leading to an EU decision on such MRS during the Bulgarian and the Romanian Presidencies of the Council of the European Union (EU) in the first halves of 2018 and 2019, respectively.

  1. Launching a New EU Macro-Region in the BSR

In its Global Strategy for the EU Foreign and Security Policy of June 2016, the EU commits itself to active support of “voluntary forms of regional governance that offer states and peoples the opportunity to manage better security concerns, reap the economic gains of globalization, express more fully cultures and identities, and project influence in world affairs.” To this effect, the EU intends to “promote and support cooperative regional orders worldwide, including in the most divided areas”.

Furthermore, as “regional orders do not take a single form”, the EU plans to “support regional organizations”, “where possible and whenever in line with the Union’s interests”. Hence, the establishment of an EU macro-region in the BSR should aim at implementing an up-to-date EU strategy for comprehensive development of the BSR as part of the overall evolution of the post-2020 European Territorial Cooperation in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Varna Forum 2.0 may wish to discuss the merits of establishing a macro-regional strategy for the BSR and the modalities for an actionable approach to this end, including the following questions:

  • Given that the Black Sea Synergy framework remains insufficiently developed, should it be upgraded to and replaced by the more comprehensive macro‑regional concept?
  • Does the present evolution of the regional and the global contexts favor such an upgrading of the EU approach to cooperation in the region of the Black Sea?
  • How should the considerable security challenges in the region be evaluated and taken into account when examining the prospect for an EU Black Sea MRS?
  • Could the inclusion of Russia, which is a participant in the existing Black Sea Synergy cooperation, provide a meaningful input necessary for the delivery of practical results from a new MRS?
  • How can the lessons from the EU macro-regional strategies for the Baltic Sea, the Danube River, the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and the Alpine areas, be used to facilitate the development of an EU macro-region for the Black Sea region?

2. The Overall Background

2.1. The Emerging New Global Framework

a. Climate of Change

Varna Forum 2.0 meets at a time of critical reassessment of the neoliberal and neoconservative economic models. The 2014 Oxfam report “Working for the Few”, drawn up for the World Economic Forum at Davos points out that: almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just 1 % of the population, with the possessions of the 1% wealthiest individuals amounting to $110 trillion, i.e.65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. Hence, both the neoliberal and the neoconservative globalization paradigms are now broadly seen as inefficient, if not definitively counterproductive as formats for seeking sustainable socio‑economic progress.

Political economists prompted by national elections seeking “political elites change” have already started examining trans-continental modalities capable of shaping a more sustainable world economic order. This process will likely take time and has uncertain results. The leading world economic powers (e.g. G-7 and G-20) are increasingly focusing on reformist projects, some of which might affect the BSR countries as well. Therefore, any ambitious plans for joint sectoral activities and cooperation in the BSR under the EU “macro-regional” flag should examine its merits and future scope of implementation from global and regional economic perspectives.

As to Europe, the 2016 “Brexit referendum” in the United Kingdom has started a process that has brought about the most profound crisis of the EU in its 60-year history. The EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy (FSP) has recognized that European societies “live in times of existential crisis, within and beyond the EU” and that “the Union is under threat”. To the east, the European security order has been fractured, while terrorism and violence plague North Africa and the Middle East, affecting Europe itself. Furthermore, the 2017 EC White Paper on the Future of Europe and the Rome Declaration of the EU leaders on the 60-th anniversary of the Union, have acknowledged that the EU is “facing unprecedented challenges, both global and domestic,” including “regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism, and social and economic inequalities. ”At the same time, the EU leaders have emphasized the great accomplishments and further aspirations of this “unique Union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Yet, these are times of extraordinary opportunities for all EU Member States, including its BSR Member States. The EU today is called upon more than ever before to navigate the difficult, more connected, contested and complex world, which is guided and bolstered by shared interests, principles and policies. Building upon its many strengths and historic achievements, the EU seems well placed to continue playing its significant political and economic role in global and European affairs. It is expected that the forthcoming discussions within and among EU Member States on the ways forward to a “common future” will indicate, inter alia, the general political framework for any new EU macro‑regional endeavour, including the initiative for an EU macro-regional strategy for the BSR.

In general, the ever more evident “climate of change” seems to have underlined the need for ensuring stable peace, regional coordination and sustainable economic development, both on global and regional scales. As regards the BSR, the protracted (“frozen”) bilateral conflicts in this region persist in hampering the development of apolitical atmosphere favoring enhanced regional cooperation. In addition, energy supply controversies, political upheavals and recurring military pressures in the Black Sea inspired by geostrategic interests mainly, pose major challenges to the pace of development of such cooperation.

In this context, gradual improvement of the bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections in the U.S.A., if still possible against the recent polemics on hot international issues, particularly vis-à-vis Crimea and Syria, could positively affect the prospects for multilateral cooperation in and around the Black Sea. It is hoped that the urgent need for coordinated or joint U.S. - Russian counter-terrorism actions, focusing on fighting ISIS operations in the Middle East, would bring about a better bilateral climate with positive impact on the whole spectrum of international relations.

The BSR countries themselves could further enhance the positive patterns of regional cooperation on matters of common interest, thus contributing to a new regional atmosphere and a better spirit of interaction. This process would continue to require outside support in securing its success, including through the EU partnership and enlargement programmes. Most importantly, regional rapprochement must count on the ability and the political will of BSR governments to define and defend their shared economic, social and security interests in constructive interaction with broader strategic priorities and power projections.

b. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Perspective

The EU keeps a close eye on the complex issues of international ocean governance, which include challenges to maritime areas like the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. In this respect, the EU believes that “climate change, poverty and food security are global matters that could effectively be addressed, if oceans are better protected and sustainably managed”. To this end, and building upon its Blue Growth Strategy adopted in 2012 (to serve as “a driver for welfare and prosperity” in maritime cooperation),on 10 November 2016, the European Commission (EC) and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (FASP) issued a Joint Communication proposing actions for safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans.

This initiative was undertaken as part of the EU response to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular, Goal No 14 entitled “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. The response was initially based on the political mandate from the EC President to the EC Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries “to engage in shaping international ocean governance in the UN, in other multilateral fora and bilaterally with key global partners”. Thе 2016 Joint Communication outlined 14 sets of actions in three priority areas: (a) improving the international ocean governance framework; (b) reducing human pressure on oceans and creating conditions for a sustainable blue economy; and (c) strengthening international ocean research and data.

As regards the new EU macro-regional strategies and sea basin initiatives concerning the entire Europe, the EC has achieved a lot by focusing on the “blue growth” perspective but also by moving ahead in several specific maritime areas of cooperation, including ocean energy technologies, marine research, sustainable aquaculture production, and coastal and maritime tourism. In this context, the EC[2]has most recently recalled that “the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Fund is creating three routes highlighting underwater cultural heritage in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, which cover activities from shipwrecks and ancient artefacts to underwater landscapes and artificial reefs”. Looking beyond research objectives in this field, the EC also emphasized “the success of wide strategies in the Atlantic, the Baltic, the Adriatic-Ionian, and in the western Mediterranean”. In addition, while recalling that “regional cooperation approaches have been established in the Arctic”, the Commission pointed that it “intends to develop a similar approach to the Black Sea.”

c. The “One Belt, One Road” Platform

China’s 2013 “One Belt, One Road” trans-continental project (the “Belt & Road Initiative”) constitutes another “game changer”, representing a programme with the potential to transform global communication, business and economic modalities. The project is a long-term endeavor that calls for massive investments and development of trade routes traversing also the BSR space.

The “One Belt, One Road” concept seems to have the potential to be the world’s largest platform for regional collaboration. What the initiative’s authors call “the Road” is actually the ancient Silk Road with an ambitious scale covering about 65 % of the world’s population, approximately one‑third of the world’s GDP, and about a quarter of the goods and services that the world transports.

Political observers consider this economic concept as a “second Marshall Plan”, which could produce results similar to those achieved in post‑WW2 Europe. Four years after its launch, the “Belt & Road Initiative” remains a very long-term project with major investors hesitating to employ financial resources on such a scale and for indefinite duration. China, aiming to address such concerns, is putting together implementing consortiums of banks and funds. What needs to happen, however, is for the interested parties from the respective regions along the route, including the BSR, to consider possible inclusion of this initiative in their own plans and projections.

Inevitably, “the Belt” affects EU security interests in both Central and South Asia, which are still being defined. Greater interconnectivity potentially facilitated by “the Belt” gives the EU impetus to think more strategically and to contribute more proactively to stability outside of its immediate neighborhood. This, however, requires the EU to develop its own strategic vision for stability and security in Eurasia as a whole, and the role it sees for itself and stakeholders within this framework. This would be a starting point from which the EU can assess “the Belt” initiative, both politically and conceptually. An initiative by the EU Member States in the BSR to develop a macro-regional strategy of the Union for this region could stimulate Brussels to formulate further elements of its strategic vision vis-à-vis Eurasian events and trends.

The inclusion of the “the Belt & Road” subject as a discussion item on the BSR macro-regional agenda could focus on the prospect for the Black Sea Region to evolve as a key interface for dynamic expansion of a more comprehensive European - Eurasian interaction.

2.2  The Accumulated Regional Experience

a. BSEC: 25 Years of Multilateral Regional Cooperation

In 1992, the BSR countries launched a joint project for regional cooperation focusing on economic matters of mutual interest - the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, which has become a fully-fledged international organization recognized by the UN in 1998. Twenty-five years later, in 2017, the participating countries are able to justifiably highlight a number of common practical achievements.

Perhaps even more importantly, the BSEC and its Parliamentary Assembly at present continue to provide a unique platform for political dialogue and informal consultations between BSR countries that otherwise would not take place due to diverging or conflicting interests and policies. The result is the creation of important confidence-building effects with meaningful positive projections, for instance the current discussion on the elaboration of an EU macro-regional strategy for the BSR.

The EU has been providing an important input with its conceptual, political, strategic and financial support encouraging a wide range of cooperation in the BSR. As to BSEC, the organization prefers to participate in more EU projects than it does currently, which are few projects in the EU Programme for Research and Technological Development, as well as in the Cross‑Border Programme for the Black Sea basin. The BSEC would also like the EU to be more involved in its two regional flagship projects, the so-called Black Sea Ring Highway and the Black Sea Motorways.

However, whenever BSEC's proposals endeavor to go beyond particular regional cooperation projects, the EU and the three EU Member States from the BSR seem to have preferred remaining within the project format. This is the case, for example, with the agreement among some BSEC countries to issue transit papers valid for road transporters. In the case of the two “flagship projects” mentioned above, some of their sub‑projects do not coincide with the larger plans of the EU under the European Trans-European Networks. In other cases, the EU's strict rules on open competition sometimes conflict with BSEC's rules, e.g. on ideas for alternative energy supply routes through BSEC countries (e.g. Bulgaria).

b. The Black Sea Synergy

Ten years ago, the EU, right after the accession to it of Bulgaria and Romania on1 January 2007, put in place the so-called Black Sea Synergy Initiative. It was designed as a flexible framework for more coherent BSR economic cooperation and policy guidance, while also inviting a more integrated approach. However, some EU member states, while strongly supporting a new Eastern Partnership, viewed the Black Sea Synergy as a threat to the development of that specific partnership. Therefore, since 2008these two EU policies have evolved in parallel but at different speeds. On one hand, the Eastern Partnership has held governmental meetings at all levels, sectoral platforms, and various networks including civil society. The Black Sea Synergy, on the other hand, has not progressed beyond modest sectoral partnerships and has been slowed down by limited funding.

Despite the Black Sea Synergy's challenging initial circumstances, there has been some practical progress in its implementation, which forms a substantive basis for its upgrading to the more inclusive and perspective format of an EU macro-region. Several achievements in the specific programmes or projects under the Black Sea Synergy Initiative are worth highlighting in this regard:

  • On 1 January 2013, the EU launched a programme on “Improving Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea”. Implemented in the framework of the EU Black Sea Synergy Environmental Partnership, this programme resulted from a European Parliament’s initiative to provide funding for a pilot project. The project was meant to serve as a preparatory phase for a larger technical intervention aimed at improving: (i) the availability and quality of data on the chemical and biological status of the Black Sea, and (ii) the countries’ abilities to monitor the marine environment. The overall objective of the project was to set up initiatives that would help improve the protection of the Black Sea environment.
  • In 2007, the EU launched the Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) Programme for the Black Sea Basin (2007 - 2013), which seems to be the most tangible achievement of the Black Sea Synergy Initiative. The Programme supports three types of cross-border projects: (i) those encouraging economic and social development; (ii) those pooling resources and competencies for environmental protection and conservation; and (iii) those supporting cultural and educational initiatives. As the Programme's implementation provided positive results and was appreciated by stakeholders, it has received more funding than initially allocated. The Programme was extended into the current Multiannual Financial Framework under the name Black Sea Basin (BSB) Cooperation Programme 2014 ‑ 2020, which remains part of the EU’s CBC under its European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI). In January 2017, a first call for project proposals was launched under the ENI’s CBC “Black Sea Basin Joint Operational Programme 2014 – 2020, open to proposals relating to all thematic objectives and priorities. The ENI grant would be 92% of the eligible costs (Euro 19,6 mln), while national co-financing is required of at least 8% of the costs.

It should be recognized that the EC and the European External Action Service (EEAS) have faced a very difficult political environment in implementing the Black Sea Synergy. Russia could have given its full support to this inclusive EU initiative, but instead sometimes adopted a position in the BSEC that was at best neutral. The views of Turkey, which aims at establishing itself as a leading regional power, increasingly overlapped with Russia's attitudes. The EU Member States preferring the Eastern Partnership have not facilitated a Black Sea Synergy progress either. The main international financial institutions active in the region have also been reluctant to assume risks having to do with this project.

The EC attempt in 2009 - 2010 to launch three extra Black Sea Synergy Sector Partnerships (on environment coordinated by Romania, on energy - by Bulgaria, and on transportation – by Greece) in a short period turned out overly optimistic, and the fields selected for the partnerships had quite different levels of political feasibility. In addition, establishing bridges between the management of three different EU operational policies in the BSR – the BSEC, the Black Sea Synergy and the Eastern Partnerships platform – remains a particular challenge under the centralised EU format of governance. There is therefore a clear need for introduction of more modern strategies that would address these shortcomings.

The Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea Synergy should advance in parallel, since they overlap substantially. As to policy options for further Black Sea Synergy evolution, the EU could formulate clear objectives and priorities for marking additional progress. The Black Sea “sector partnerships” also need to be developed further. The European Parliament has repeatedly called for a separate budget for the Black Sea, which the EC and the EEAS cannot reasonably ignore any longer. All this could easily be achieved under the umbrella of an EU strategy for a BSR macro-region, which offers sophisticated and efficient ways of advancing a more comprehensive set of local cooperation activities.

c. Additional EU-Supported Activities

In addition, The EU is implementing, on multilateral or bilateral basis, a number of other cooperation programmes and projects in the BSR. They could also constitute significant building blocks for the more comprehensive and well-organized concept of a Black Sea Macro Region, with a specific EU strategy, improved coordination between existing policies and initiatives, defined objectives, thematic priorities, sectoral activities and funding options. The current EU‑related activities include:

  • The Black Sea Horizon Project (2015 - 2018) designed to boost scientific and technological collaboration funded by Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. The project supports the EU’s external relations with BSR countries by: (i) contributing to ongoing bi-regional and regional science, technology and innovation (STI) policy dialogues, and (ii) increasing the knowledge base about the EU’s external environment. These activities aim to strengthen the economic competitiveness and to establish favorable conditions by pooling resources and identifying challenging thematic areas for cooperation;
  • An EU Scoping Mission (assessment through monitoring, consultations and discussions) has been carried out to assess the current state of maritime affairs in the coastal BSR countries and to suggest draft architecture for a project to assist in building up the capacities of public bodies and raising awareness about the benefits of maritime integration. A project concept has been produced, which is under discussion with coastal countries and regional organizations.
  • The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (EASME) is currently dealing with eight on-going projects focused on cross-border maritime issues, blue growth, coastal and cultural tourism, integrated maritime surveillance, and maritime clusters.
  • The Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) is the EC's primary public repository and portal to disseminate information on all EU-funded research projects and their results in the broadest sense through its website and repository. Currently, there is one project focusing on knowledge exchange and academic cultures in the humanities between Europe and the Black Sea Region for the period from the 18-th to the 21-st centuries.
  • The Interreg V-A Romania-Bulgaria Programme (under the EU cohesion policy) aims to promote a harmonious economic, social and territorial development of border or adjacent areas in the two Member States, and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
  • The Interreg - IPA CBC Bulgaria-Turkey Programme is under the EU strategy for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth, and focuses on environment and sustainable tourism. Co‑financed by the EU Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance II, and by Bulgaria and Turkey, as partners, it covers the areas of Burgas, Yambol, Haskovo, Edirne and Kırklareli.
  • The EU-Georgia association agreement (from 1 July 2016 onward) enables Georgian citizens to benefit from provision of business opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises, improved safety of locally grown agricultural products, and enhanced energy efficiency.
  • The EU-Ukraine association agreement (yet to enter into force, though some of its parts apply provisionally) establishes political and economic association between the EU, its Member States, EURATOM, and Ukraine. The parties commit themselves to cooperate and converge economic policy, legislation, and regulation across a broad range of areas.

d. Maritime Regional Cooperation

The Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions  (CPMR) is an independent organization bringing together some 160 regions from 25 states from the European Union and beyond. Representing about 200 million people, the CPMR campaigns  promote a more balanced development of the European territory. The conference operates both as a think-tank and as a lobby for the regions involved. Through its extensive network of contacts within the EU institutions and national governments, the CPMR has been targeting its actions to ensure that the needs and interests of its Member Regions are taken into account in policies with high territorial impact. It focuses mainly on social, economic and territorial cohesion, maritime policies, blue growth, and accessibility. European governance, energy, climate change, neighborhood and development are also targets of its activities.

The Balkan and Black Sea Commission (BBSC) is one of the six Geographical Commissions of the CPMR. It was established in 2004, when two existing commissions for the Balkans and the Black Sea area decided to join forces. Currently, the BBSC brings together members from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Albania, Republic of Moldova, Turkey, and Ukraine. The objective of the BBSC is to encourage dialogue in the region and increase stakeholders’ awareness and cooperation. The dialogue’s focus is on stepping up relations between EU and non-EU regions in the wider Black Sea area. This is meant to contribute towards stability and growth and to foster the presence of the CPMR in this area, thus stimulating collaboration, promoting best practices, and drawing attention to challenges. One of its specific mission objectives is to participate in the shaping, at regional and EU levels, of the macro‑regional and maritime strategies relevant to the area. These include the Black Sea Synergy, the Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR), the Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR), the Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSAR), and the Integrated Maritime Policy for the Black Sea.

The Annual High-Level Stakeholder Conference has turned into an important forum for engagement with the stakeholder community in the Black Sea. Building on the success of the high-level conferences held in Bucharest (2014), Sofia (2015) and most recently in Odessa (2016), the EC teams up every year with maritime practitioners and entrepreneurs of the region to discuss how they can achieve their maximum potential, and generate sustainable economic and social benefits in coastal areas.

e. Cooperation at NGO Level

The Romanian Non-Governmental Development Organization (NGDO) Platform – FOND held the IX‑th edition of the Black Sea NGO Forum from 31 October to 2 November 2016 in Varna, Bulgaria. This forum aimed to enhance the level of dialogue and cooperation among NGOs in the wider Black Sea Region, to strengthen the NGOs capacity to influence regional and national policies, and to increase the number and quality of regional partnerships and projects. The “2016 edition” was organized with the financial support of the EC and the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in partnership with the UNDP’s Regional Centre for Europe and Central Asia, the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), and with support from the local partner, the Black Sea NGO Network (BSNN).It targeted the implementation of the “Strategic Framework for Civil Society Cooperation in the Black Sea Region” by promoting an enabling environment for CSOs as a prerequisite for regional cooperation and supporting the Black Sea NGO Forum’s Working Groups engaged in the thematic cooperation areas identified by participants during the “2015 edition”.

An open-ended list of specific programmes, projects, sectoral and other EU-related activities, both under and outside the Black Sea Synergy Initiative, is provided in a separate Information Note entitled “Cooperation Projects in the BSR”, which serves as a technical supplement to this discussion paper.

3. The Security Challenge

a. The Growing Military Confrontation in the BSR

Military deployments by Russia, including forward-based nuclear forces, in western Russian territories and Crimea, and the creation of a NATO “rapid reaction force” with an intensive schedule of military exercises in Poland, the three Baltic countries, Romania, Bulgaria and the Black See waters, are perceived as having increased the risk of a major military confrontation in the BSR. Moscow describes these developments within NATO as open adversarial acts of “military encirclement” threatening Russian borders. The possibility for open military hostilities or even a war sparked by an accidental naval or land military confrontation in the BSR may not be ignored.

Coordinated actions of the BSR countries are urgently required to change the trend of potentially confrontational postures and to minimize the danger of military escalation. This is a common challenge for the entire BSR. Strengthening economic, trade, and confidence‑building cooperation in the BSR, involving EU, NATO Member States, and Russia, can and should be developed as an effective way to enhance security and stability in the region. Typical EU “soft power” approaches to reinforce the foundations of peace in Europe, including the BSR, seem essential in this respect. They could be based on the strategy of building up mutual understanding and economic inter-dependence between past or potential adversaries, which would then serve as a long‑term foundation for peace and stability (for example, the rapprochement between Germany and France after WW2).In the 21-th century, it should be possible to project into the BSR the success of this historic initiative, which has brought about stable peace and prosperity in Western Europe and has been fundamental for the establishment of the EU.

b. The Black Sea Region in the Broader European Security Landscape

The return to a “Cold War” terminology has damaged the entire spectrum of international relations as applied to the European security landscape. Deeply rooted political divergences and new dividing lines in Europe, including the BSR, often result from the quest of people to adapt to EU democratic values and to integrate their societies with the more prosperous parts of Europe. Resurgent extreme ideological and religious beliefs, combined with related acts of terrorism, have become an all‑European and global concern. Adversarial developments in the BSR, which are related to some of the protracted bilateral conflicts, cannot be isolated from the broader security landscape in Europe.

In some respects, however, the threats faced by most of the BSR countries are perceived as less alarming, and even of a different nature, compared to the threat perceptions generated in relation to the three Baltic countries and Poland. From such a perspective, some observers consider Bulgaria and Greece as the least militarily threatened, due to their close historical, cultural, and economic ties with Russia. On the other hand, as countries located at the external EU border, Bulgaria and Greece seem the most directly affected by yet another imminent threat -the surge of war refugees and illegal migration from the Middle East, Africa and Asia towards Central and Western Europe. Hence, the intensity and focus of the prevailing threats to national security of NATO allies in the BSR have a somewhat different flavor and intensity than those voiced in Northern Europe. Balanced collective measures to arrest the confrontational trends and restore the climate of regional peace and stability may therefore differ in these European areas bordering Russia. This promises a lot for the chances of success to the regional cooperation in the BSR, including a future EU macro-regional strategy.

Still, local governments are likely to continue to find it difficult to ignore great power geostrategic rivalry, particularly between Russia and the USA. Many of them face the common challenge of how best to balance and adapt divergent political and economic strategies to out-of-the-area factors.

c. Challenges to European Security from BSR Conflicts

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of conflicts took place in some of the “post-Soviet” states, usually where the new international borders did not match the ethnic affiliations of local populations. These conflicts have largely remained "frozen"/“protracted”, with disputed areas under the control of entities other than the countries to which they are internationally recognized as belonging and which consider those areas as part of their own territory. All of them are situated in the BSR and, as such, are strongly influenced by the geopolitical rivalries in the area. Apart from remaining latent sources of political tension and resumed military hostilities, the protracted BSR conflicts have determined the need for NATO Member States and Russia to adapt existing confidence and security-building measures (CSBMs) to new realities. This process has led to the adoption of the 2011 Vienna Document composed of politically binding CSBMs designed to increase openness and transparency vis-à-vis military activities inside the OSCE's zone of application.

The 2011 Vienna Document is part of an interlocking web of mutually enforcing agreements, including the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) and the Open Skies Treaty. However, the selective implementation of those acts of “soft” and “hard” international law have eroded the positive contributions of these arms control instruments to peace and regional stability. Largely, this was due to substantial political developments in the countries of Eastern Europe after the demise of the Soviet Union, coupled with significant changes in the initial military configuration in Europe. More specifically, both sides have disrespected the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and Russia, which banned the permanent deployment of new forces in Central and Eastern Europe. The agreement also expressed the understanding that “NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries”, which seems forgotten these days.

These arms control and disengagement agreements still constitute a rich conceptual basis for further adaption or development, if necessary, of additional specific CSBMs within an EU macro-regional strategy in the BSR. They could involve land and naval military activities, thus recreating the necessary climate of prudent disengagement and greater transparency among the participating BSR countries. Such CSBMs tailor-made for the BSR situation could, inter alia, become part of a new OSCE process in the future covering large parts of NATO countries bordering western and southern parts of Russia. This wider political process tentatively called “Helsinki-2” is already informally discussed at various scientific fora.

4. Developing an European Black Sea MRS

a. An Idea With History

In a 2011 resolution, the European Parliament addressed the idea of setting up of a Strategy for the Black Sea Region in the framework of the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy. The resolution called “on the EC and the EEAS to draw up a strategy for the Black Sea Region in parallel with the review of the European Neighborhood Policy”. This requirement defines an integrated and comprehensive approach for the EU to address the common challenges to and the opportunities for the BSR, with a detailed action plan, clear objectives, flagship initiatives and benchmarks. The European Parliament believed that “the strategy will make for effective coordination of activities and division of tasks.”

b. The Notion of Macro-Regional Strategy

An EU “macro-regional strategy” means an integrated conceptual framework endorsed by the Council, which may be supported by EU structural and investment funds, to address common challenges to several Member States and third countries (i.e. non-EU countries) in a defined geographical area, which thereby benefit from enhanced cooperation contributing to greater economic, social and territorial cohesion. The “sea basin strategy” is a similar concept relating to a structured framework of cooperation developed by EU institutions, Member States, their regions and, where appropriate, third countries sharing a sea basin, taking into account the geographic, climatic, economic and political specificities of the sea basin.

An EP resolution of 3 July 2012 on the evolution of macro-regional strategies: (i) endorsed the macro‑regional approach to territorial cooperation policies between territories belonging to maritime areas, mountain ranges or river basins; (ii) expressed its belief that macro‑regional strategies opened a new chapter in European territorial cooperation by applying a bottom-up approach and spreading cooperation to more and more areas via the better use of available resources; and (iii) recommended that, in view of their clear European-added value, macro‑regional strategies should receive more attention in the framework of European territorial cooperation”. These provisions fully apply to the idea of an EU macro-region in the BSR, which could develop gradually in a post‑2020 perspective.

Currently, the EU is implementing four macro-regional strategies: for the Baltic Sea Region initiated in 2009, the Danube Region in 2011, the Adriatic-Ionian Region in 2014, and the Alpine Region in 2016. Involving 19 EU Member States and 8 non-EU countries, these macro-regional strategies have now become an integral part of the EU policy framework. Their objectives are fully in line with EU political priorities; they reinforce synergies between different EU policies and instruments; and they are anchored in the cohesion policy framework. These strategies operate with no additional EU funds, no new institutions, and no new legislation, which is a general principle for any EU macro‑region. This requires more coherence between existing EU funds, structures and policies, and proactive regional quest for additional resources. The strategies have created working structures around priority areas, selected in a bottom-up process of consultation, under the political leadership of interested countries, regions or organizations(stakeholders), supported by the EC as a facilitator acting in good-faith. 

The key ingredients of the EU macro-regional approach are: (i) the main actors (i.e. the EU and its Member States taking decisions); (ii) the identification of needs to address shared concerns/ challenges and joint objectives (i.e. agenda setting and priorities, based on measurable needs and political preferences); and (iii) the strategy as a framework for coordinating policies and use of common resources.

There are various similarities between the “macro-regional” strategy and the “sea basin” strategy, which are particularly evident in the case of the Black Sea Region covering both land territories and maritime areas. The two concepts: (i) are place-based, relating to both EU Member States and non-EU countries located in the same geographical area; (ii) focus on common issues, solutions and actions of strategic relevance, providing genuine added-value for the entire region; (iii) encourage strategic cooperation and coordination among policies, institutions and funding sources, where cooperation is brought to a new level necessitating new openings and approaches; (iv) require an integrated approach for implementation, establishing cross-sectoral cooperation and coordination mechanisms, as well as multi-stakeholder dialogue; (v) are supported by all means of funding, e.g. EU, national, regional, private and international funds; and (vi) are placed into the EU legal structure under the regulatory framework for European Structural and Investment Funds for 2014 - 2020.

There are several elements of a pragmatic rationale for the introduction and implementation of EU macro-regional strategies, as listed below, which are particularly applicable to the BSR. This justifies a process of gradual transformation of existing traditional patterns of regional cooperation into a newly developed, integrated system of decentralized planning and enhanced coordination of local activities from the“2030 European perspective”.

Firstly, the macro‑regional practical experience accumulated so far in Europe indicates itself that such a transformations could become one of the basic requirements for more efficient and results oriented functioning of cooperation activities. While centralized EU institutions will continue to play indispensable guiding roles in developing strategies and in funding regional cooperation in Europe, they can hardly manage to identify, or act directly to address, the specific regional challenges faced by interested stakeholders. Shared local threats, social and economic instabilities, and other existential concerns, may not be governed efficiently from a distance either (e.g. from Brussels). The quest for greater efficiency and ability to arrive at pragmatic local solutions needs, however, to remain or be made consistent, as appropriate, with key EU sectoral strategies and policies.

Secondly, established regional interactions often need to cover shared concerns more comprehensively and to be all-inclusive with respect to relevant non‑EU countries/ stakeholders from the region. Once again, a striking example in the BS Synergy approach of the EU is the limited scope of its sectoral activities in a situation where local governments/stakeholders clearly see a common need to address energy supply and diversification pressures, border controls of illegal migration, climate change controls, confidence- and security-building deficits, etc. In addition, it is incomprehensible that key actors in the BSR are often absent from regional projects, while their constructive involvement is expected to add significant value for peace, prosperity and stability of the entire region. From such a perspective, there is a great degree of unutilized synergic potential in the current multilateral formats of BSR cooperation. An EU-led macro‑regional evolution of the multilateral cooperation in the region would have to recognize and exploit this synergic potential. It would build upon the principles and modalities of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy that seek to interact with other regional partners based on the common interests and the shared objectives of promoting peaceful interaction, regional security and sustainable development

Thirdly, the EU macro-regional approach make more efficient the EU territorial cooperation platforms, where the application of a bottom-up planning and multi-level governance[3] approach adds more value[4] to the established formats of regional cooperation. For example, an EU macro-regional strategy enables stakeholders - both EU Member States and (non-EU) third countries in the region (e.g. BSR) - to focus on regional thematic priorities, objectives and sectoral activities, included in an action plan with specific benchmarks. It usually results in a better coordination of funding and more efficient ways of monitoring regional cooperation activities. The holistic integration and synchronization of various cooperation sectors under a single “macro‑regional umbrella” helps also reduce the number of unnecessary policy documents, thus simplifying EU regulations. Such development make it easier for local shareholders to expand cooperation and utilize better regional and EU resources. These extra benefits would facilitate the difficult navigation of the future Black Sea macro-region through “changing waters”.

Fourthly, macro-regional strategies are an important innovation in territorial cooperation and cohesion. However, they are differing in several respects from cross-border and transnational territorial cooperation. One key feature of macro-regional cooperation is its anchoring to integrated, strategic, longer-term-oriented and open-ended frameworks. In addition, they are requested by the Member States and reflect their strong political commitment towards joint achievement of common objectives. The strategies aim at addressing challenges and opportunities specific to certain geographical area (which are too local to be of direct interest to the whole EU, but on the other hand too broad to be efficiently dealt with at national level) and define a set of shared, long-term objectives agreed by the participating countries. The objectives vary according to the needs of the macro-region concerned and the prominence is to be given to strategic issues bringing an added value to horizontal EU policies.

Fifthly, in the same context, moving towards a macro-regional mode of multilateral cooperation helps advance the cohesion process in Europe by gradually eliminating territorial disparities. In this respect, the first EC report[5] on the implementation of EU macro-regional strategies concludes: “Reducing regional disparities is as much a goal of MRS as is the creation of synergies for growth and employment in the regions concerned. Macro-regions can help shape an integrated view on the future of the European territory. They can become an important instrument in the pursuit of territorial cohesion across different policy areas, and can inspire similar approaches as the EU Urban Agenda (seeking to improve life quality). They call for closer links between EU policy areas and EU funds. In order to untap their potential to the benefit of European citizens, links between MRS and cohesion policy should be further explored in terms of targeting strategic sectors, coordinating EU policies and instruments.”

In conclusion, a decade ago, the EU put in place its Black Sea Synergy concept as a framework for a coherent approach for development of the BSR. At present, there are a number of sectoral activities covering the Black Sea (e.g. the Blue Growth Economy program under the EU’s maritime policy and the Black Sea Basin format). However, neither the limited results from the EU Synergy nor the current sectoral approach in the BSR appear to provide the necessary basis for an overarching future‑oriented strategy harnessing the significant potential for transforming the Black Sea from an area of rivalry and confrontation into a region of comprehensive and deepening cooperation. It seems that an EU macro‑regional strategy for the BSR would have much better chances to achieve this objective.

c. The Varna Forum 2.0

The Varna Forum 2.0 provides a timely setting for taking up and advancing the idea of a macro‑regional strategy for the Black Sea Region. Bulgaria and Romania have already demonstrated that they share a strong interest in converting the BSR into an area of dynamic economic growth, social development, and stable peace. The upcoming Presidencies of the Council of the European Union by Bulgaria (in the first half of 2018) and by Romania (a year later) offer an opportunity for them to come up with a joint initiative within the EU. It would promote the idea and outline practical approaches for a new macro-regional strategy for the Black Sea Region in line with the general evolution of the EU’s 2030 policy horizon.

It is of direct relevance to this unique opening for the BSR that the EC, in its working document of 31 March 2017 on the Blue Growth Strategy, states that “despite the complex political environment in the Black Sea region, the Commission has sought cooperation with non-EU countries. It has been sustaining bilateral dialogue on maritime affairs with Turkey and holding meetings with national contact points for maritime affairs from all coastal countries. The focus is on raising awareness about the benefits of maritime integration and encouraging cooperation at regional level in areas of mutual interest. Such an approach is helping to reduce initial skepticism from some countries and laying foundations for further EU maritime engagement in the region. Against this background and in view of the upcoming EU Council Presidencies of Bulgaria (first half of 2018) and Romania (first half of 2019), the time seems ripe to seek consensus for a common blue economy agenda. To support that development, the Commission will launch a dedicated assistance mechanism, called “Facility for blue economy development”, in 2017”.[6]

Furthermore, acting upon the observations and the recommendations made in the 2016 EC report on the implementation of the existing four EU macro‑regional strategies, on 25 April 2017,the Council of the EU approved its own conclusions[7] on this subject-matter, inter alia, including: (a)“Considers that information on good practices which can be transferred from one strategy to another would facilitate the implementation, and calls on the Commission to support and organize the sharing and transfer of such practices, inter alia, in cooperation with the INTERACT programme”;(b) “Calls on participating countries and their regions and the Commission to further integrate macro-regional strategies and EU sectorial policies, and develop synergies among them, thereby improving the implementation of sectorial policies in an integrated way across territories”;(c) “Considers that the Commission should continue to play a leading role in the strategic coordination of key delivery stages of the macro-regional strategies, in partnership with the Member States”; (d) “Invites the Commission to continue supporting the implementation of macro-regional strategies where this brings added value, in particular in terms of strategic planning, monitoring, evaluation and communication, while agreeing that monitoring and evaluation processes should involve all relevant stakeholders”; and  (e) “Remains open to examine any commonly agreed and mature initiative of Member States facing the same challenges in a defined geographic area aimed at setting up a new macro-regional strategy”.

Against this background, the steps to introduce the EU macro-regional strategy initiative for the BSR and to develop sufficient support among relevant stakeholders could include the following actions:

  • The governments of Bulgaria and Romania should first make the case for development of the new macro-regional strategy before the Council of the EU and Member States, particularly those involved in the Danube macro-regional cooperation process. In doing so, they could point to the need to ensure the best use of EU resources under existing sectoral programmes by utilizing untapped synergies and directing their use towards the achievement of clear and measurable long-term regional goals.
  • The government representatives of Bulgaria, Romania and Greece to various EU institutions should also make the case - both bilaterally and under Council formats - before their respective partners at their meetings. They could suggest for inclusion, in the conclusions of upcoming meetings, recommendations for the EC to present a draft document examining the potential for synergies between sectoral programs by means of a strategy for a new generation Black Sea macro‑region for sustainable development.
  • Sufficient support should be raised, in this context, within the European Parliament (EP), addressing the same constituencies of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and generating discussions and recommendations within the relevant committees, in particular the Committee on Regional Development (REGI) of the EP, which is currently chaired by a MEP from Bulgaria.
  • The BSEC organization could be further employed as a relevant format for building support from the countries of the Black Sea Region. The same is valid for non-governmental entities such as the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions with its practical experience of cooperation between interested stakeholders.
  • In line with established precedents concerning EU macro-regional strategies, the preparatory process would need to lead to an interim decision by the European Council under the 2018 Presidency of the Council of the EU by Bulgaria, and to a concluding resolution during the 2019 Presidency of Romania, with a view to launching the implementation of the new macro‑regional strategy for the BSR in the beginning of 2020.
  • As regards the specific proposal for EU action on this matter, the 2018 Bulgarian Presidency may wish to find a suitable way to encourage the European Council to agree on the following mandate for an EU macro‑region in the BSR: “The European Council invites the Commission to present a macro‑regional strategy for the Black Sea Region by June 2020 at the latest. This strategy should, inter alia, help address the challenges and modalities for cooperation related to border controls of illegal migration; protection of environment and climate change controls; energy supply; maritime transportation safety; fishery management coordination; regional confidence- and security-building; and suitable European ‑ Eurasian economic interaction. The existing EU Black Sea Synergy framework and the conceptual formats developed by the Black Sea Economic Cooperation process should provide a solid basis for the external aspects of cooperation in the Black Sea Region”.


[1] The “Black Sea Region” (BSR) is a geographical area encompassing the Black Sea basin and the territories of the six bordering counties - Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine (sometimes called “Black Sea Space” (BSS)), considered together with four of their neighboring countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, and Moldova. The latter countries are geographically and functionally associated with the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea for reasons of their location and national interests in taking part in the regional cooperation affecting the climate of economic prosperity, security and stability in the wider area connecting Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

[2] Ref.: Statement by Commissioner Karmenu Vella for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries to the “Informal Ministerial Conference on Blue Growth, Ocean Governance in the EU and the Mediterranean, Innovation and Nautical Tourism” (Malta, 19 – 20 April 2017).

[3]  Ref.: EU Council’s Conclusions on the Governance of Macro-Regional Strategies, 9 October 2014, doc. 13374/14

[4] Ref.: EU Council Conclusions on Added Value of Macro-Regional Strategies, General Affairs, Council meeting, Luxembourg, Press Release, 22 October 2013

[5] Ref.: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Implementation of EU Macro-Regional Strategies, SWD(2016) 443, Brussels, 16.12.2016 COM(2016) 805, Section 7 (“The way forward”), Sub-Section “Conclusions”, page 11, doc. 15792/16 + ADD 1;

[6] Ref.: Report on the Blue Growth Strategy towards More Sustainable Growth and Jobs in the Blue Economy, EC staff working document on blue growth (2013-2016), 31 March.2017, SWD (2017) 128, Section 4.1.3 “Black Sea”, pages 34 – 35.

[7] Ref.: Doc. 8307/17, PRESSE 19 PR CO 19, Outcome of the Council Meeting, 3531-st meeting, General Affairs, Cohesion policy; Luxembourg, 25 April 2017.

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