Batumi, Ajara (GE), 6th April 2011
“It is important that we are gathered today as the EU is experiencing a turning point in its construction as it revises its strategies for 2020. The links that the EU weaves with its neighbours will be decisive for years to come, for example on questions regarding energy. The AER intends to contribute to development of those bordering the Black Sea area through an approach based on its territories”. It was with these words that Michèle Sabban, President of the Assembly of European Regions (AER), opened the second Conference of the regions surrounding the Black Sea, which this year was attended by 130 politicians, experts and representatives of the Black Sea regions who gathered in Batumi, Georgia to reflect on the importance of cooperation in this space and how to develop it.
Development of interregional and cross-border projects in the Black Sea
A major geo-strategic location marked by number of past conflicts, the Black Sea basin is confronted by an urgent environmental question, whose long-term impact is not confined to seven riparian states and thirty-three regions. Convinced that cooperation at regional and local levels, along with the diplomatic dialogue, is the best way to obtain concrete results and to face environmental challenges, but also socio-economic and cultural specific to this area, AER presented successful examples of interregional cooperation. Concrete projects in key areas such as cooperation between SMEs around the Black Sea, women’s entrepreneurship or cultural integration through cooperation between young people were presented, proving that if necessary the regions can act even when States and the EU remain stuck in the status quo.
AER has committed to create Training Academies for officials and politicians of the Black Sea Region and to support them in implementing projects and finding partners, particularly in the context of the 2nd call for proposals under the ‘Programme of the European Union Black Sea ENPI CBC’, which opens in April. AER in this regard calls for the simplification of rules of this program. Among the proposed improvements: a common budget line for all partners of the Black Sea project, a homogenization of legal formalities to be completed by potential partners and the abandonment of specific rules of participation for Turkish partners.
Access to finance is an essential component of any successful initiative, the AER has allowed participants to interact with experts in project financing, including the Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for the Caucasus, Moldova and Belarus.
A perfectible EU Strategy for the Black Sea
Michèle Sabban said that “In the current political context the focus is primarily oriented towards the north-south dimension whilst even though the EU is preparing a reform of its neighbourhood policy, there is a real risk that Eastern Europe comes second in political and financial efforts of the EU. We have also very recently met European Parliamentarians who have clearly highlighted this danger! “
Romanian MEP Victor Bostinaru, co-rapporteur on the Black Sea Strategy adopted by the European Parliament in January, had indeed insisted on the importance of the EU developing a real strategy for the Black Sea, involving all stakeholders to ensure the lasting stability of the area. Regional cooperation is essential, he said to establish stability and overcome the environmental and energy challenges it faces. He assured the AER of his support for its action.
Finally, conference participants agreed on the need for better coordination of macro-regional European approaches, in particular to ensure synergy between the EU strategy for the Black Sea and the Danube, a river that has a direct impact on seawater. The AER strongly calls the Union to act in this regard.
“I wanted to host the conference on the Black Sea AER in my region, Adjara, because I am committed, along with my colleagues from around the Black Sea, to go ahead and use all tools available to ensure peace and stability, which will contribute to social and economic development of our territory, for the good of our citizens” concluded Levan Varshalomidze, Chairman of the Government of Ajara.
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