The BSEC celebrated its 20th anniversary in İstanbul with a high-level summit followed by a reception last week. Delegations from the BSEC member countries confirmed their commitment for better cooperation for sustainable development, energy cooperation, environmental protection and resolution of regional disputes through dialogue.
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 has largely changed regional dynamics, regenerating ethnic and religious conflict in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Turkey’s initiative to found an international platform that would include those countries was a well-intentioned initiative to build confidence in the region by prioritizing economic cooperation as a deterrent to armed conflict and wars. The mastermind behind the idea is retired diplomat Professor Şükrü Elekdağ, and the idea was adopted by Turgut Özal as a foreign policy initiative to establish the platform.
But the sluggishness in the completion of common economic projects and political disagreements between member countries thus far have prevented the organization from being efficient. The Black Sea Ring Highway and Motorways of the Seas projects, which started in 2007 and 2008, respectively, have been touted as the two key projects required for economic integration in the region, but have not yet been completed. Only Greece and Turkey have finished building their parts of the ring highway.
Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, the former secretary-general of the organization, who handed over his chair to Ambassador Victor Tvircun -- former Moldovan ambassador to Turkey -- last week, says the biggest shortcoming of the organization is the lack of willingness of member countries to contribute to organizational activities. “The countries do not voluntarily provide funds like Greece and Turkey did,” Chrysanthopoulos noted, mentioning the BSEC-UNDP (United Nations Development Program) joint Black Sea Trade and Investment Promotion Program (BSTIP), formulated to promote further cooperation in the area of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“Taking into consideration what is available to the BSEC, what it has achieved thus far is quite important, but more funds are needed, more things could be done,” Chrysanthopoulos said. The only thing the organization is efficient in working on is the Hellenic Development Fund, which is a Greek initiative launched in 2009. The fund was endowed with an initial amount of 2 million euros in 2008 for a period of four years.
Habibe Özdal, an expert on Russia working with the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), also cited a lack of a commonly adopted foreign policy within the EU as an obstacle to developing more effective EU-BSEC cooperation. She also indicated, agreeing with Chrysanthopoulos, that the member country’s lack of willingness to adopt harmonious foreign policies that prioritize regional cooperation is the core problem behind the inefficiency of the BSEC. Özdal claimed that Russia’s prohibitive approach to closer cooperation with the EU bloc could only be overcome by the will of member countries to formulate a common foreign policy approach. “Europe is in a crisis, and their problem is not something that can be solved in the short term. The Black Sea region will not be a priority for the EU in the short term. Meanwhile, the core shortcoming is the inability of regional countries to take the initiative. The Black Sea countries need to find common ground when making foreign policy,” Özdal asserted.
Also, Professor Mustafa Kibaroğlu, an arms control expert at Okan University in İstanbul, highlighted the importance of the further promotion of a common banking initiative within the organization, which would fund the BSEC projects through external contribution or by BSEC countries. Stating that initiatives already taken in terms of banking within the organization were not sufficient, Kibaroğlu claimed that “if a banking structure within the organization cannot be formed, the BSEC will continue to be an organization that only occasionally makes it on tp the agenda of member states, an organization whose efficiency is questioned.”