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Round table: The Significance of the Black Sea Region for the European Union: Political, Economic and Energy Aspects
 
On 10 March 2010 the Center for the Study of Democracy organized a round table discussing the role of the Black Sea Region for the economic development of and the security relations, including energy security within the European Union. A reoccurring theme in the discussion was the development of a common EU strategy and policy on the EU level on key security issues, and a more active participation of Bulgaria and Romania as members-states.

Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of the Center for the Study of Democracy, opened the event focusing the discussion on the Region’s role for the process of diversification of the EU’s energy sector and securing the supply of energy sources. Mr. Andreas von Below, Director of Konrad Adenauer Foundation Bulgaria, greeted the participants in the discussion reaffirming the importance of the Black Sea Region for the prospective relations within the European Community and the economic development of the EU.

Mr. Manfred Grund, Member of the German Bundestag, outlined the challenges in EU’s relationship with the Region, as prevalent cultural, economic, and other differences preclude the Union from having a single common approach towards the region. EU’s goal is to establish such an approach and develop a coherent policy towards the Black Sea Region, as the latter is geographically significant and a traditional route for imports of energy resources. A significant share of gas supplies to Europe passes through countries in the Black Sea Region (e.g., about 80 percent of Europe's gas imports from Russia pass through Ukraine). Moreover, key future infrastructural projects like the NABUCCO gas-pipeline are to be built through countries in the Region. Mr. Grund stressed on Bulgaria’s unusually high dependence on gas, oil, and nuclear fuel imports from a single country – Russia. In this context, Mr. Grund identified building a common agreement between Russia and the EU as a key to future political development in the region.

According to Ambassador Boyko Noev, Senior Fellow at the European Program of the Center for the Study of Democracy, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc system, the Black Sea Region lost its military, and to some extent its geographic, significance. The policy debate surrounding the Black Sea Region has been somewhat exaggerated, as the region is currently relatively stable. Yet, frozen conflicts like the one in Georgia remain problematic, especially from a regional standpoint, with the EU shying away from taking decisive stance in these issues. Moreover, EU’s intention to integrate Turkey and Ukraine would not materialize in the absence of a firmer position on particular issues – South Stream being one of them. In addition, Mr. Noev foresees potential clashes in the fact that Turkey’s accession into the EU is not in sight, yet the country is increasingly becoming an important factor (including in terms of energy supply). Mr. Noev stressed on the idea that both current and prospective Member States should not face alone issues concerning the security of the whole union, but be guided by a unified EU approach. An example is the case of Bulgaria having to negotiate, and eventually agree, with Russia on energy projects that were signed 14 years ago and seem to increase the country’s energy dependence.

Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Director of CSD’s Economic Program and moderator of the event, noted that with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU, the Black Sea became in practice an EU territory, yet the Union’s influence in the region is still limited. Thus, a strategy for the Black Sea Region is needed to secure stability and security both in terms of energy supply and in view of the external border of the Union. The Black Sea region is an intersection for the economic, political, and especially energy interest of Russia and Turkey. In this context of overlapping interests, establishing a framework for cooperation would be quite useful for the development of the energy sector.

Mr. Martin Dimitrov, Chairman of the Economic Policy, Energy and Tourism Committee, stressed on the need for a more coherent energy policy at the EU level. According to him, the current situation calls for a common European Strategy and a new body to coordinate all energy issues at the European level. There is also a need from a common European position on negotiations and key projects like South Stream. As countries like Bulgaria lack clearly formulated priorities, they need a leader in their negotiations with Russia on vital issues such as nuclear energy.

Mr. Martin Sieg, Advisor at the German Bundestag, addressed external boarder security of the Black Sea region and its importance for the EU. Both the region and the EU as a whole have a role to play in frozen conflicts like the one in Georgia. Mr. Sieg believes that Russia is recently trying to forsake its isolation from neighboring countries, and Russia’s interest to enter NATO can be crucial for achieving a common agreement on a number of issues (including energy security). In light of existing frozen conflicts, Mr. Sieg called for an attempt over constructive negotiations and resolutions.

During the discussion, Mr. Ilian Vassilev, former Ambassador of Bulgaria to Russia, reaffirmed that, while EU’s uniqueness is in its diversity and flexibility, the Union has to act in solidarity and unity on matters regarding the security of its members, especially energy security. Mr. Vassilev recommended that the region develop a statement of its common interest, not only in the energy sector, but also on all security matters. What happened with Georgia (in the Russia – Georgia conflict) was a bad example for the lack of common policy. According to Mr. Vassilev, the region needs the establishment of a common interest framework, as economic interest has the potential of overcoming conflicts.

Agenda

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