Global View

A framework for Black Sea Collaboration: BSEC

Alexandra Colcer

Since ancient times, the Black Sea has been considered a geopolitical hotspot due to its strategic position connecting Europe and Asia. Moreover, the basin is also linked to the Azov Sea through the Kerch Strait, the Marmara Sea through the Bosphorus and the Aegean Sea and therefore the Mediterranean Sea through the Dardanelles Strait.

In 1992, riveran states – Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Ukraine along with countries from the Black Sea wider region interested in increasing regional cooperation set the stepping stone for a new multilateral initiative known as  ”The Black Sea Economic Cooperation” (BSEC).

BSEC is the oldest, most representative regional economic intergovernmental organization in the wider Black Sea region, as its members are spread on both continents and encompass territories of the Black Sea littoral states, the Balkans and the Caucasus, thus including an area of approximately 20 million square kilometres and 330 million people.

The organization’s cooperation areas include:

  • transport and communications, including communications infrastructure;
  • informatics;
  • exchange of economic and commercial information, including statistics;
  • standardization and certification of products;
  • energy;
  • mining and processing of mineral raw materials;
  • tourism;
  • agriculture and agro-industries;
  • veterinary and sanitary protection;
  • health care and pharmaceutics;
  • science and technology.

Background

In the mid to late 1980s, countries from the Black Sea wider region – Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine and Serbia – at Turkey’s initiative, decided to start a regular dialogue which turned into  the launch of the Black Sea Economic Co-operation (BSEC) in 1992 in Istanbul. In 1995, during a meeting in Bucharest, foreign ministers adopted an “Action Plan” to strengthen co-operation mechanisms. Also, in 2004, Serbia joined the organization.

BSEC appeared as a unique and promising model of multilateral political and economic initiative. In order to promote interaction and harmony among its members, as well as to ensure peace, stability and prosperity, encouraging friendly relations and good neighbourly relations in the region, the BSEC now has the role of a forum for cooperation in a wide range of areas between the 12 Member States.

BSEC structure and decision-making procedures

The Council of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs is BSEC’s central decision-making organ. It meets every six months to define aspects regarding the functioning of the organisation and it may grant BSEC observer status (at the request of international states  or organizations) or partner for dialogue with the BSEC (at the request of some states, international organizations and institutions).

The Parliamentary Assembly (PABSEC) established in 1993, follows the model of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and includes a Standing Committee, a Bureau, three specialised Committees (on economic, trade, technological, environmental affairs; political and legal affairs; social and cultural affairs) and an International Secretariat.

The Permanent International Secretariat, based in Istanbul, is headed by a Secretary General and provides administrative support to the decision-making structures of the organisation.

The Business Council consists of experts and representatives of Chambers of Commerce of the Member States and promotes co-operation between public and private sectors.

The Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB) administers funding for regional co-operation projects. The Bank funds projects also thanks to the support of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The Interim Presidency (PIE) is ensured by the Member States in alphabetical order for a period of six months.

BSEC’s partners include- the countries and institutions that have observer status (Austria, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Poland, USA, Slovakia, Tunisia, France, Germany, Black Sea Commission, European Commission, Black Sea International Club, Croatia, Belarus), countries and non-governmental organizations that are partners for sectoral dialogue (including Hungary, Iran, Slovenia, Japan, the Danube Commission, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe, the Union of Road Transport Associations in the BSEC Region, the Black Sea Universities Network, etc.), as well as international organizations (UN, World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc.).

Projects – Plans of Action

BSEC includes 18 areas of cooperation, each with a corresponding action plan, which includes main objectives, expected results and, some of them, large scale projects.

As a short overview of BSEC’s activity, the following main plans are currently being implemented:

  • on Agriculture and Agro-Industry – targets improving sustainable rural productivity and enhancing the international competitiveness, improving the availability of financial services and credits to farmers, enhancing dialogue on bio-technology methods.
  • on Banking and Finance – to enhance the closer cooperation in the field of banking and finance and establish close relationships between the supervisory authorities of financial systems of BSEC Member States.
  • on Combating Crime – the plan focuses on countering terrorism, human trafficking in the Black Sea Region, countering transnational crime.
  • on Culture – the plan includes the creation of a BSEC Cultural Platform, as well as the organization of a BSEC Film Festival and participation in film festivals, production of TV specials (60 minutes.) with the collaboration among the national TV stations.
  • on Customs matters – it includes activities such as: promoting multilateral transit arrangements, automation of transit systems such as common transit system and TIR system stimulating and supporting capacity building activities among the customs administrations.
  • on Emergency Assistance – plans focus on developing and usinge of modern technologies to predict natural and man-made disasters through means of space monitoring, drafting of seismic risk maps, building up relations with regional initiatives involved into the infrastructure protection and risks evaluation in the Black Sea Region, including terrorist threats.
  • on Education – the plan focuses on promoting mobility of academic staff and students among the BSEC Member States, promoting scientific research for Sustainable Development, supporting public-private partnership in the field of education.
  • on Energy – the cooperation focuses on exchanging information on legislation in energy sector and national programs and development and improvement of energy infrastructure in the Black Sea region.
  • on Environmental protection– the plan includes the implementation of a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the BSEC Region.
  • on Healthcare and pharmaceutics – the joint plan focuses on creating a Epidemiological Surveillance and Response network, implementing the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Sanitary Protection of the Territories of the Member States of the Organization, exploring possible steps for promoting BSEC-EU cooperation.
  • on Institutional Renewal and Good Governance – it follows three main directions: Strengthening the Working Group as a Discussion Platform, re-enforcing the Working Group for Support of Multilateral Cooperation, enhancing the Working Group as a Common Information Exchange Channel.
  • on Science and Technology – cooperation focuses on human resources, capacity building, research infrastructure and innovation as areas of action, identifying innovative ways for combining allocated public and private funds, and facilitating the access to other available financial resources.
  • on SMEs – the objects include supporting regional development and sustainable growth, contributing to job creation, income generation, supporting research and technology commercialization, building an environment of knowledge, science, and entrepreneurial activity, increasing cross-country collaboration.
  • on Tourism – BSEC aims to promote the region as one of the leading tourism destinations of the world, ensuring sustainable tourism development by adopting green growth strategies that will enable economic expansion while preserving natural and cultural heritage.
  • on Trade and Economic Development – the plan supports intra-regional trade and investment.
  • on Transport – it focuses on integration of the national transport networks into the regional ones and furthermore into the Trans European Network and Euro-Asian Transport Linkages.

      Moreover, the plans of action for ”Exchange statistical data and economic information” and ”Information & Communication Technologies”  are programmed to be adopted in the next meetings.

Example of projects planned by BSEC:

  • An Electronic Marketplace to Support Pairs of Less Widely Studied European Languages (2007)
  • Market potential for Hydrogen production from Hydrogen Sulphide in Black Sea and industrial waters (2008)
  • Operational Framework of an advanced Telematics based Institute, for promotion of services on sustainable development in ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management)
  • Technology Transfer Network for BSEC Region (2012)
  • New cardiovascular planning and diagnostic tool for coronary arteries in BSEC countries using computational simulation (2008)
  • Experimental Deployment of an Integrated Grid and Cloud Enabled Environment in the BSEC Countries on the Base of g-Eclipse (on-going project)
  • Identification of barriers to trade that small and medium enterprises of BSEC member countries face in intra-BSEC trade, as well as, proposals for country-specific policy recommendations for the elimination of these barriers
  • Development of Distant Professional Learning Software for the International Road Transportation Industry (2004)

Conclusion:

The region has a recognized strategic importance, which is given by rich natural resources, especially oil and gas, and an important market potential.  Also, BSEC, through its broad spectrum of activities and its composition, is a useful framework for dialogue and mutual confidence building between Member States, thus paving the way for a viable engagement in more ambitious projects.

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