Countries that abut the
Black Sea are more of a difficulty for
Europe in terms of integration, liberalization, and democratization. The
Black Sea littorals are
Georgia. The country with the longest
Black Sea coast,
Turkey, also has the strategic straits of
Istanbul and Çanakkale, which connect the
Black Sea to the
Mediterranean. However, only those seven countries should not solely occupy one’s mind when one speaks of the
Black Sea basin. The
Black Sea is the gateway that connects the
Caucasus to the rest world. Almost all Northern Balkan territories are in this basin. Many Central and Eastern European countries, through the
Danube, link to the
Mediterranean via the
Black Sea. While being a transit spot on the Asia-Europe route, it is also a critical junction in the north-south course. With Bulgarian, Romanian and prospect Turkish accession to the EU, the entire western and southern coasts of the
Black Sea would become EU territory, and this would warrant a renewed interest in the need and potential for
Black Sea regional cooperation.
The Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) was established in early 1990s, at
Turkey’s initiative and bearing in mind the fact that the
Black Sea basin cannot be confined to littorals,
Greece were invited to join. While some groups like to think of the BSEC as an alternative to the EU, on the contrary, it has functioned to complement the EU enterprise by aiming integration and stability in this sub-region. As the pioneer of the BSEC initiative,
Turkey expects the organization to improve economic relations, curtail ethnic conflict, and maintain regional cooperation at all levels. This is precisely the reason why
Turkey worked hard to bring
Greece, both of which had troubles with
Turkey at their foundation stages, into the organization. While its successes are limited in the commercial domain, an investment bank has been formed within the BSEC framework. In the realm of security, the Black Sea Peace Force (Blackseafor) has become operational. Even though cooperation has been attained in cultural and other matters, it has to be said that the results are far from satisfactory. This is primarily due to the fact that the political will and economic means have not been mustered at the disposal of the organization. Yet, it was said that the
Black Sea basin is at the center of
Europe’s most troublesome regions. A spring of cooperation and healing to emanate from the
Black Sea will contribute to regions such as the Balkans,
Eastern Europe that experience problems with liberalization and democratization. The said regions also constitute a liability for the EU. Both the EU and the
US labor onerously to bring about progress in the region, but complain about the lack of success. Every step that
Turkey takes towards EU membership will improve the
Black Sea vision.
Greece is already an EU member, however, is not a
Black Sea littoral and lacks the strength to project its EU vision on the
Black Sea. On the other hand, the sea was once termed an “Ottoman Turkish lake” when many ethnic and religious groups were living on the
Black Sea shores under Turkish rule. It can be said that the true power to shape the
Black Sea rests in the hands of
Ukraine’s significance should also not go unnoticed. Nonetheless,
Turkey poses as the only country among the three to be able to extend EU policies towards the region. Rumanian and Bulgarian accession to the EU will undoubtedly contribute to that end, but true success cannot be attained without taking the strongest countries into consideration.
Turkey, full member of the EU, will wield the dynamism to bring the shores of the
Black Sea closer. Meanwhile, with
Rumania full members of the EU, more than half of the
Black Sea shores will become EU territories and will set a great example to the rest of the region’s countries.
Concurrently, the EU will gain in different fields with the
Black Sea basin falling under EU jurisdiction. First of all, the transport routes vital for the EU will be secured and properly regulated. Environmental pollution on the
Danube and the
Black Sea will be better controlled. Becoming an important energy route, the basin would ensure the safety and stability of the routes as they carry energy towards the EU. In addition to all these factors, the
Black Sea basin is a very important sector for EU-related drugs, arms, and human trafficking. In case the
Black Sea basin is not handled as a whole, but by individual countries that work their way around independently, no results would be obtained and the current problems would simply remain.
Turkey’s EU membership will hinder passage to the
Black Sea from the
Middle East and the
Caucasus. Along with Rumanian and Bulgarian memberships,
Moldavia would be left and can be more easily secured within the BSEC framework.
NATO’s widening towards Black Sea shores and Turkish support for that cause can be a good example for EU enlargement. It should not be too hard to imagine the impact on European security and integration of having three NATO and EU members bordering the Black Sea.
By Sedat LACINER (MA and PhD): Director, ISRO.
Originally published on 17 July 2005
Michael Emerson and
Nathelie Tocci, Turkey as a Bridge and Spearhead, Integrating EU and Turkish Foreign Policy, (
Brussels: CEPS, 2004), p. 12.