The Black Sea Region will decide the future of the EU
International Conference on the Risks and Opportunities of Regional Cooperation in the Black Sea Area
On 25 January 80 experts and political decision-makers came to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin at the invitation of the "Commission on the Black Sea" in order to talk about the current state of relations in the Black Sea area and the future prospects of this European region. The "Commission on the Black Sea" is an initiative founded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and other non-governmental organizations.
Relations with its immediate neighbours are of great importance for the European Union. Are these states developing in a democratic and peaceful manner, or is their political development influenced by conflict? Can economic and good neighbourly contacts be expanded, or are relations overshadowed by opposing interests and perhaps also by suspicion and power politics? All this has a direct effect on the European Union.
In recent years one area in particular, the region around the Black Sea in the south-east of Europe, has been the meeting point of many different lines of development. The Black Sea region is characterized by the fact that large parts of it either belong to Europe or see themselves as being European. Romania and Bulgaria are EU member states, Turkey is engaged in negotiations about joining the European Union, and Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia believe that they are Europeans. For this reason they feel very close to the EU. At the same time there are great differences in the areas of political and economic development, not to mention rivalries and conflicts between the states of the region. The Black Sea area, unlike any other in the world, is also a bottleneck for the movement of goods, people and energy. And last but not least this is where the interests and political claims of the EU, Russia and the US converge.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung has acknowledged the increasing significance of this region by setting up an international commission in conjunction with a number of partner institutes. The "Commission on the Black Sea" sees itself as a civil society initiative which wishes to launch an open debate about the future of the Black Sea area both in the region itself and in the EU. For this reason the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the "Commission on the Black Sea" acting in conjunction with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs invited a number of international experts and politicians to meet in Berlin.
Peace and a positive shift to more democracy and stability in the region are possible. The conference participants were in agreement on this point. However, there was a need for stronger democratic and civil society structures and cross-border initiatives for reconciliation and cooperation. This was especially emphasized by Marin Raykov, the deputy Bulgarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, in his introductory address. Suat Kiniklioglu, chairman of the External Affairs Committee of the Turkish National Assembly, and Borys Tarasyuk, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian parliament, also underlined the central role of civil society and democratic structures for the stability of the various countries, and for a peaceful and positive evolution of the whole region.
Volker Rühe, the former German Minister of Defence, and other participants drew attention to the existing obstacles to closer regional cooperation. For example, the Russian Federation continues to be sceptical about a rapprochement of the countries in the region and closer cooperation with the EU.
Furthermore, there are still a number of hot spots in the area where conflicts can easily turn into armed confrontation. In this context the participants welcomed President Medvedev's proposal to talk about a pan-European security architecture, and Turkey's new desire to promote a peaceful reconciliation of interests in the Black Sea region. Hannes Swoboda from the European Parliament and Vartan Oskanian, for many years Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that the increasing level of economic integration was a positive development.
The work of the "Commission on the Black Sea" will culminate in the publication of a joint report. It will concentrate on the opportunities which are going to become available to the EU and thus to Germany from a peaceful and stable Black Sea region. The report is due to be published in March 2010.
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In economic terms, the Black Sea region has witnessed significant changes over the past two decades. The post-2000 period saw sustained high levels of growth that transformed economic and social structures. But the 2008 financial crisis stopped short the period of high growth. The first of four policy reports presented by the Commission on the Black Sea examines the transformation of the economies of the Black Sea countries.