Black Sea countries pledge deeper co-operation

1312.jpgLeaders from the 12 nations in the Black Sea Economic Co-operation (BSEC) organisation gathered in Istanbul on Monday (June 25th) to mark the group’s 15th anniversary at a one-day summit, hosted by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Enhancing trade and energy co-operation in the BSEC region topped the agenda of the meeting, held amid tight security at the Ottoman-era Ciragan Palace in Turkey’s largest city.

At the end of the talks, the leaders issued a declaration voicing their commitment to consolidating the organisation’s role “as an active and reliable partner in regional and international affairs” and to meeting the challenges ahead.

They also pledged “to deepen co-operation in the area of energy … and co-operate with the EU and other international partners to ensure fair access to energy resources and markets on a mutual basis for all interested countries”. They agreed to boost co-operation on a project to build a 7,500km beltway linking all 12 member nations.

In addition, the leaders cited the removal of legal barriers to trade as a priority concern. A special meeting on the issue will be held in September.

Founded in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the BSEC comprises the Black Sea littoral states of Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, as well as neighbouring Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Moldova and Serbia.

Covering an overall territory of nearly 20m sq km and with a population totalling about 350 million people, the BSEC region is the second-largest source of oil and natural gas after the Persian Gulf. It is also a major transit corridor for delivering oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian region to Europe.

Except for Armenia, which sent its foreign minister to the summit, all other member states were represented either by their president or prime minister.

Speaking at the meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasised the region’s great potential as a route for transporting oil and gas to European markets.

“Energy supplies are becoming an increasingly important factor in progress,” he said. “We are ready to solve with our regional partners major tasks that affect not only the economic climate in the region but also the European and world economy.”|

The Balkans and the Black Sea “have always been a sphere of our special interests”, Putin later told reporters. “And it is but natural that a resurgent Russia is returning here.”

While the Russian leader voiced opposition to “adding new structures” to the BSEC, Romanian President Traian Basescu called for more co-operation with the EU and other regional initiatives.

Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov suggested the 27-nation bloc should invest in developing modern transport, energy and communications infrastructure in the Black Sea region, by allocating funds under its regional development programmes.

In the summit’s final declaration, the European Commission was granted observer status.

Acknowledging that political problems between individual member states are hindering economic co-operation, the document called for their peaceful settlement.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have not yet resolved their long-standing dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Russia and Georgia are at odds over the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Serbia and Albania’s contrasting views concerning Kosovo’s future also became apparent at the Istanbul summit.

“Political conflicts constitute an important hurdle in the way of economic co-operation and development,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a lunch he hosted on Monday. “We have to make efforts to find a solution to political problems by ourselves within the region.”

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