President. – The next item is the statement on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the Black Sea strategy.
Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Mr President, honourable Members of the European Parliament, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to discuss on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Ashton our regional cooperation efforts and perspectives in the Black Sea area. I welcome the attention that the European Parliament is giving to Black Sea regional cooperation.
The Black Sea region is a distinct geographical area rich in human and natural resources. It acts as a gateway between Europe, Asia and the Middle East and therefore offers Black Sea stakeholders an opportunity to identify areas where our interests come together to further practical cooperation.
Since 2007, with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, the European Union has been directly involved in Black Sea affairs. There are significant opportunities and challenges in the region that require coordinated action. This is why we established the Black Sea Synergy in 2008 as the European Union’s contribution to regional cooperation.
I am sometimes asked whether the Black Sea Synergy duplicates the Eastern Partnership. My answer is no. The Eastern Partnership is about bringing our Eastern neighbours closer to the European Union through political association and economic integration. The Black Sea Synergy is about bringing the European Union closer to the Black Sea by contributing to regional cooperation.
Let me add a couple of personal comments here. There is, of course, interaction between the two – between the Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea Synergy. We have developed the Eastern Partnership into a major instrument of our relationship with our eastern partners. I think it gives us an opportunity for the Black Sea Synergy to become a real instrument providing us with synergies between our policies in our region as we put together our efforts to build more of the European Union in our partner countries through our cross-border cooperation and our more active role in a regional framework of cooperation.
While our interests in the Black Sea are broad, ranging from the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries to energy, transport, movement and security, we have focused our activities on the creation of the three sectoral partnerships in the fields of the environment, transport and energy. In March 2010, we launched the Environment Partnership.
In addition, we have a substantial programme of cross-border cooperation in the region which I referred to a second ago. The budget for the 2007-2013 Black Sea basin programme under the cross-border element of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument has increased from EUR 17 million to almost EUR 26 million.
The 18 projects implemented after the first call for proposals cover the three priorities of the European Union’s 2007-2013 Black Sea basin programme: supporting cross-border partnerships for economic and social development, sharing resources and competences for environmental protection and conservation, and supporting cultural and educational initiatives for the establishment of a common cultural environment in the basin. However, we have not progressed as much as we would have hoped in implementing the three partnerships. The time has thus come to reflect anew on how to take our cooperation in the Black Sea region forward. I therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you.
As for the future Black Sea strategy, we have to make sure it will be well received both within the European Union and among the Black Sea States that are not part of our Union. In the meantime, we are reflecting on how to revitalise the Black Sea Synergy as a natural step towards the future strategy.
In taking this forward, we will have three considerations uppermost in our minds. Firstly, we must reinvigorate the European Union’s approach to cooperation in the Black Sea region in a way which takes account of the variety of relations we have with the countries around the Black Sea. We have a candidate country (Turkey) and a strategic partner (Russia), plus our partners within the Eastern Partnership: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. We will also have to bear in mind the sometimes difficult relations these countries have with each other or with countries neighbouring the Black Sea region.
Secondly, we will need to take into account the other cooperation frameworks in the region. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. In the environmental field, the Black Sea Commission is an important player, and the European Union hopes to be accepted as a full member soon. We would also like to step up our engagement with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation, especially in the context of its 20th anniversary summit due to take place in Istanbul on 26 June.
A reinvigorated Black Sea Synergy initiative and engagement with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation will provide great opportunities to develop practical cooperation and to foster dialogue between the European Union and Russia and between the European Union and Turkey, both being important stakeholders in the region.
My third and last – and most important – point is this: we must play to the European Union’s strengths and the opportunities offered by the Lisbon Treaty to bring together our internal and external policies and instruments.
I will continue to value the exchanges with Parliament on the Black Sea region as we take forward our process of reflection on how to enhance the European Union’s policy approach towards this important region.
Traian Ungureanu, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Mr President, as rapporteur on the Black Sea for this House, I can confirm that 15 months have passed since this House called for the adoption of an EU strategy on the Black Sea which would upgrade the Black Sea Synergy.
When the Black Sea Synergy was launched back in 2008, expectations were high. The launch of the Black Sea Synergy had several important merits: firstly, shaping the Black Sea region as a separate unit of EU policy making, and secondly, qualifying the region as strategically important for the EU.
Four years later, the results are disappointing. In terms of EU policy, the Black Sea region looks very much like a black hole. No global reporting on the implementation of the Synergy has taken place since 2008. No coherent policy document presents the current situation in the Black Sea region.
Secondly, the challenges in the Black Sea are not waiting peacefully for the Commission to put pen to paper. The Black Sea is an unchecked collection of tensions and potential crises. Despite some improvements in sectoral fields – environment, maritime and fisheries policy – one cannot speak of improvements in strategic fields such as security and energy.
On two occasions – in 2008 and 2011 – the European Parliament called for the upgrading of the Black Sea Synergy to a Black Sea strategy, and the question still stands. Is the Commission planning to elaborate such a strategy?
Libor Rouček, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, the Black Sea region is a region of strategic importance. As has already been mentioned, it includes EU Member States and candidate countries such as Turkey, our strategic partner Russia, and, of course, countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood. So it is in our interests to help bring security, stability and prosperity to the entire region.
It is true that there are frozen conflicts in that region, some of which have been frozen for more than 20 years. What should be done in that region? I think the approach the Commissioner mentioned – supporting some of the sector policies such as transport, tourism, energy, the environment – is the right one. If we look at the work the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation are doing, these are exactly the areas which these organisations are looking at. We should support this. There are concepts such as building a Black Sea highway and linking ports in order to increase trust among the nations alongside the Black Sea and, of course, to increase tourism, energy security and environmental protection. Perhaps through this approach, step by step, we could also contribute to solving some of the frozen conflicts in the region.
In other words, I think that the approach presented by the Commissioner is the right one and that we should support it. I think we should also be more active as far as our cooperation – the cooperation of the European Parliament – with the BSEC is concerned.
Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, recent events have made our partnership with our eastern neighbours stronger and more efficient. The policy of ‘more for more’ is important and is definitely the right approach. It will give our partners to the east the incentive to introduce more reforms and to make the necessary changes. Of course, this applies, in particular, to the countries around the Black Sea. The EU can offer help and act as a driving force for reform in a variety of areas. The region around the Black Sea will undoubtedly become more important over the next few years, not least because of the energy issue.
The European Union should take a circumspect, long-term approach to ensure that the interests of all the stakeholders can be taken into consideration as effectively as possible. This also applies to the question of constructing new oil and gas pipelines. The EU needs greater diversification in its energy supplies, but it should avoid becoming dependent on new partners, for example, Turkey. From a political perspective, we should welcome the fact that some Black Sea countries such as Ukraine are moving closer to the EU. However, in this case, we should, wherever possible, take legitimate Russian interests in this region into consideration, where they really are legitimate, in order not to put our partnership with Russia at risk.
Othmar Karas (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr Füle, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome the efforts to give a new impetus to the Black Sea strategy. I am also grateful for the honest evaluation of the current situation, which shows that we have nothing to congratulate one another about.
The countries of the Black Sea region are becoming increasingly important because of their geographic proximity, the potential for dynamic growth in sales and in the labour market and their energy resources. The Danube, which is Europe’s main river, flows into the Black Sea. It is important for us to support cooperation between the countries of the Black Sea region and not to play one state off against another. It is also important for us to coordinate the activities of the Member States in this region and to ensure that individual Member States are not going it alone.
This region will determine the future energy security of Europe. The key words include diversification, interconnectivity and security of supply. The Nabucco gas pipeline is the main diversification project, along with other alternative and competing projects, such as South Stream. The region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, where Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia meet, is also characterised by active and frozen conflicts. Therefore, the important issues include not only the economy and energy, but also security and stability. I welcome the initiative to move closer in strategic terms to this region by taking a focused and professional approach.
Ivailo Kalfin (S&D). – (BG) Mr President, Commissioner, I agree with every word you said on the significance of the Black Sea region and the importance of the European Union’s activities there. I am glad that the Commission also sees prospects for developing its activities further in the Black Sea region.
Unfortunately, as you yourself mentioned, it looks as if the development of the Eastern Partnership has overshadowed the Black Sea strategy, and the European Union’s approach to regional cooperation has been extremely half-hearted in recent years.
I am glad that you yourself highlighted the significance of the European Union taking part in regional cooperation, and not only in the energy, environmental and transport sectors, but also in sectors involving human contact – tourism, culture and education. It is very important for the Commission to set specific targets for this and earmark appropriate funds. Otherwise, we will not achieve any results.
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). – (RO) Mr President, the Black Sea region is of geostrategic significance, particularly to energy security and diversification of the EU’s sources and energy supply routes, thanks to its proximity to the Caspian Sea, Middle East and Central Asia.
Following the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, the European Union should become an important player in terms of international relations in the region. As rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy on a European Union Black Sea strategy, I have highlighted the European added value and the significance of the Southern Gas Corridor as a means of improving the EU’s supply security. I think that projects such as the Nabucco gas pipeline, along with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, the Pan-European Oil Pipeline (PEOP), the Turkey-Greece-Italy Interconnector or the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector, emphasise both the particular importance of the EU’s commitments in the Black Sea region and the further need to step up cooperation between the countries around the Black Sea.
We call on the Commission to make the Black Sea region a higher priority and develop a European Union strategy for the Black Sea, accompanied by an action plan.
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, the strategic importance of the Black Sea region cannot be contested. It is important politically, economically, in terms of energy, commercially, environmentally and culturally, from the point of view of transport security, neighbourhood policy and foreign relations. This is why I believe that developing the Black Sea strategy for this region is a necessity rather than a mere option. Firstly, it must increase stability and security, focusing on the resolution of frozen conflicts. Secondly, it must utilise the region’s economic potential, supporting, in particular, the implementation of major projects within the energy sector.
Romania supports an active and comprehensive policy for the Black Sea region, complementing the EU strategy for the Danube region. The latter, currently in the implementation phase, proves successfully the importance of a concrete cooperation framework. Therefore, Commissioner Füle, I call on the Commission to table the draft Black Sea strategy as soon as possible.
Jaroslav Paška (EFD). – (SK) Mr President, the Black Sea ports, which process flows of goods coming from Eastern Europe or that are exported to the East, are an important economic gateway to the European Union today. I therefore think it is important to strengthen their capacities and to reconstruct the associated transport infrastructure along the coast and inland in a coordinated way. This also applies to the River Danube, which is the most important shipping route from the Black Sea to the interior of Europe. I therefore consider it very important, from the economic perspective, to achieve a certain interconnection between the European conceptual documents, the strategy for the Black Sea region, and the Danube strategy. The nature of the development of the Danube region is well reflected in the development of the Danube Delta and the western Black Sea coast as a whole. The synergy of the objectives defined in these two European strategy documents can lead to the more efficient use of resources for the development of the whole of Europe.
Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, the Black Sea region is recognised for its strategic importance due to its very rich natural resources and potential market of over 350 million consumers. However, greater regional cooperation is necessary between the riparian states and the wider Black Sea region.
A realistic solution for regional cooperation would be to enhance the Eastern Dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The extended Black Sea region forms part of the Eastern neighbourhood of the European Union. However, Black Sea regional cooperation plays a fairly modest role in the EU’s current plans on renewing neighbourhood policy. Moreover, the European Union could play a significant role in encouraging this regional cooperation by drawing up a European strategy for the Black Sea region, starting from the Black Sea Synergy and complementing the EU strategy for the Danube region.
IN THE CHAIR: RAINER WIELAND Vice-President
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). – (RO) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to ask the following question. At present, the current multiannual financial framework has no specific budget line opened for the development of Black Sea maritime corridors; however, such budget lines do exist for all other seas of the European Union. We call on the Black Sea riparian states to conclude a memorandum of understanding with the aim of developing Black Sea maritime corridors, and we urge the Commission to open a TEN-T budget line to fund the Black Sea maritime corridors, similar to those used to fund the Baltic Sea, North Sea and Mediterranean Sea maritime corridors.
In addition, there is no global agreement on the regional management of the Black Sea fish stocks, apart from bilateral agreements. The Commission’s support is needed to develop regional dialogue aimed at devising a common maritime strategy in the Black Sea region, also involving the other Black Sea riparian states.
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Mr President, honourable Members, thank you very much for this short but nevertheless very inspiring discussion on the Black Sea Synergy and strategy. I am a firm believer that together, the Black Sea Synergy – including our extensive range of cross-border cooperation – the European Union’s integrated maritime strategy and the European Union’s Danube strategy can build a coherent approach towards the Black Sea. Continuing along the same line as the last speaker, I could add that my colleague, Maria Damanaki, has started a process to ensure that all Black Sea coastal countries are actively and equally involved in shaping a common maritime agenda for the basin they share and that they cooperate further, including towards sustainable fisheries management.
A stakeholder conference on maritime affairs and fisheries in the Black Sea will take place in Bucharest in November this year. This joined-up approach can increase the possibilities for cooperation where there is a common interest between the European Union and its Black Sea partners in tackling the challenges facing the region, such as transport, environment, maritime and fisheries policy and education. We hope that this approach will also build increased levels of trust and confidence between the countries around the Black Sea.
The European Union needs to review its interest in the region, including its strategic, political and economic dimensions, and to further discuss how best they can be achieved. In this endeavour, we count on the support of the European Parliament and look forward to future recommendations. Regarding the support, let me assure Parliament that we remain committed to the European Union’s strategy for the Black Sea region – but at the right time. In the meantime, we are working hard on the many elements I have mentioned. Listening to some of you, I had the feeling that issues such as the security of energy, regional cooperation and democratisation were considered to be non-existent because the Black Sea strategy is not there. That is not true: we are working hard on these issues.
I made a point about the Eastern Partnership and developing the kind of policy where we are indeed building the European Union within that region. The interesting point of our debates in this institution – but also with the Council members – is that there are a number of people calling for the strategy, the framework and the institutional framework and asking when those people will be invited by me to present some concrete ideas in addition to what we are doing – how we would like to see this strategy, the pillars, the structure. To tell the truth, there we are short of good and substantive ideas.
I claim that the time we take to approach this issue seriously has not been lost. In the meantime, we will work on the Eastern Partnership; we will strengthen the relationships with our partners in the region; we will increase our support for cross-border cooperation and we will make sure that now, after the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union will be playing a more effective role in regional cooperation.
President. – The debate is closed.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing. – (RO) The EU’s involvement in Black Sea policy should increase in consistency and become more substantial, in line with the region’s development potential. The EU has an Integrated Maritime Policy for the socio-economic development of maritime regions, but its Black Sea dimension remains limited. I would like to mention that the Black Sea region plays a pivotal role in terms of energy and transport, as it serves as a transit area for half of the oil and gas imports of European countries. I believe it is important for the EU’s Black Sea strategy to be an important objective of the EU’s broader foreign policy, particularly in view of the geostrategic importance of this region in relation to the Arab Spring and the economic crisis.
Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE), in writing. – (RO) A number of initiatives and opportunities exist in the Black Sea region, yet the EU’s presence in this area is not sufficiently visible. We could even speak of a ‘timid policy’ concerning the Black Sea region, best illustrated by the common fisheries policy. Both Bulgaria and Romania have EU turbot fishing quotas, whilst Turkey disregards European policy in this respect and does not impose any restrictions. Turkish vessels catch 80% of the turbot in the Black Sea, while Bulgaria and Romania are left with the remaining 20%. In this context, it is imperative for the dialogue with countries neighbouring the Black Sea to form part of this EU policy in its ‘embryonic’ stages.
Ioan Mircea Paşcu (S&D), in writing. – Although the EU has been a Black Sea actor since 2007, its hesitancy to approach the area is still visible. The Black Sea Synergy of 2008 has not been the precursor of a more elaborate approach, as we, the Members who are located in that area, hoped for, but rather a time-buying mechanism to avoid just that: a more substantive approach towards that particularly important area of our continent. Primarily, the motivation is related, on the one hand, to the inherent complexities of the area and, on the other, to the care the EU is demonstrating not to upset important countries in the region, particularly Russia. Probably, the EU considers that the instrument of Eastern Partnership is already a sufficient annoyance to Russia – our main strategic partner in the east of the continent – to add to that a well defined strategy to deal with the area. Even the Black Sea Synergy was not conceived to be an efficient instrument, the proof of it being its minuscule ‘success’. Under the circumstances, I am afraid that it will take more time for the area to get a proper strategy, which other similar regions – see the Baltic Sea (Russia included) – already enjoy.