BSEC sailing ahead in the stormy waters of the Black Sea
MICHAEL B. CHRISTIDESIn the tumultuous years following the end of the Cold War, many states felt the need to regroup in regional organizations. Thus, the idea to establish in the Black Sea region an organization promoting economic cooperation was readily accepted by littoral states and by countries with a special interest in the region.
In 1992, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) was established as an initiative by eleven states aiming to promote projects of common benefit in key sectors such as transports, trade, energy and others.
With the entry into force of its charter in 1999, the BSEC acquired international legal identity as a full-fledged organization, whose member states increased to 12 with the accession of Serbia in 2004. The headquarters of the BSEC and its Permanent International Secretariat (PERMIS) are hosted in Istanbul.
During its initial years, the BSEC expanded at a fast pace, covering a wide range of fields. Today it fosters cooperation in all imaginable sectors, from agriculture to banking and finance, from culture to energy, from healthcare to tourism and trade.
The BSEC family of institutions consists of four related bodies ─ the Parliamentary Assembly of the BSEC, the BSEC Business Council (both based in Istanbul), the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (headquartered in Thessaloniki) and the International Centre for Black Sea Studies (located in Athens).
Looking back at the organization’s first years, one could say that some expectations of our founding fathers proved to be more idealistic than feasible. The BSEC member states have different historical backgrounds, diverse levels of development and varying political and economic priorities - some of them do not even maintain diplomatic relations or face serious bilateral problems. This reality led to the establishment of complicated and time-consuming mechanisms, in order to ensure “safety valves” for all, thus creating sometimes the impression that the BSEC lacked effectiveness.
Despite these inherent challenges, the BSEC constitutes the living proof of its member states’ desire to find common denominators, embark in joint activities, nurture the necessary “group spirit” and, thus, shape the collective identity of the region.
Transport is one of the fields where the BSEC has offered a lot, promoting both infrastructure development and the implementation of administrative reforms to facilitate cross-border transport. The “Black Sea Ring Highway” and the “Motorways of the Sea” are two flagship projects expected to increase intra-regional trade, tourism and infrastructure investments. Our intention is to also promote the concept of the Modern Silk Road on BSEC “territory” and attract the investment interest of Asia’s powerhouses, like China, Japan and South Korea.
Other areas where the activity of the BSEC has made a difference vary from cooperation in managing natural disasters or health epidemics, to establishing common touristic itineraries.
Energy and climate change are also high on our agenda, especially issues of energy efficiency, conservation and alternative and renewable sources of energy. The recently established “BSEC Green Energy Network” comprises 45 administrative bodies and entities from various states which support renewable energy sources, efficiency measures and policies. Promoting the establishment of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in order to address today’s energy issues is the next BSEC endeavor.
It is our conviction that, even under todays’ difficult circumstances, there is room for improvement in the BSEC’s performance. We can - and should - be doing better. After 23 years, the notion that some fundamental adaptations are needed is commonly accepted. Thus, we embarked upon an effort to bring about changes in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the BSEC and its importance as a regional intergovernmental organization, as well as to consolidate its project-oriented character. Our aim is to adapt to the necessities of today, react to developments in our region with greater punctuality, eliminate red-tape and implement decisions faster.
Although it never became a “household word” even in its member states, the BSEC is today widely acknowledged as the oldest, most representative and institutionally mature organization in the Black Sea region. We do not underestimate the gravity of todays’ problems and their negative impact on our efforts, nor do we have illusions on the BSEC’s role in achieving solutions. Yet, the fact that the organization not only exists, but is qualitatively and quantitatively improving its performance, underlines that, even in difficult times, it can function as a precious and useful window for dialogue and understanding. Apart from the reality that it continues to constitute a unique vehicle for its member states to promote their multilateral economic policies, the BSEC serves as an initial confidence building mechanism among them, adding to the stability and prosperity in this crucial region.
*Ambassador Michael B. Christides is the secretary-general of the permanent international secretariat of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC)