The European Union on Wednesday promised to forge stronger ties with the energy-rich nations of the Black Sea and said it was also ready to be more active in solving 'frozen conflicts' in the region, eux.tv reported.
With the accession in January of Bulgaria and Romania, two Black Sea littoral states, the region's prosperity, stability and security were of immediate concern to the EU, the bloc's external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters. Stronger EU cooperation with the region would be in addition to ongoing efforts to upgrade ties with Russia, membership negotiations with Turkey and the EU's trade and aid networks with its immediate eastern and southern neighbors, said Ferrero-Waldner. The Black Sea region covered by the initiative includes EU members Greece, Bulgaria and Romania as well as Moldova in the west, Ukraine and Russia in the north, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the east and Turkey in the south. Ferrero-Waldner said that in addition to building closer EU ties with the region, she also wanted to develop co-operation within the Black Sea region itself.
The focus in EU relations with the region will be on areas like good governance, energy, transport and environment. Highlighting the region's importance, the European Commission - the EU's executive arm - said the Black Sea was a distinct geographical area rich in natural resources and strategically located at the junction of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. „With a large population, the region faces a range of opportunities and challenges for its citizens...is an expanding market with great development potential and an important hub for energy and transport flows,” it said. However, the region also has a number of unresolved frozen conflicts, with many environmental problems and insufficient border controls thus encouraging illegal migration and organized crime.
EU officials said the bloc would take on a more active role through increased political involvement in ongoing efforts to address the conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno- Karabakh. The EU could also look at ways of enhancing its participation in international monitoring in the region. „Special attention must be paid to promoting confidence-building measures in the regions affected, including cooperation programmes specifically designed to bring the otherwise divided parties together,” said officials. Focusing on the region's energy resources, the commission said Black Sea nations represented a production and transmission area of strategic importance for EU energy supply security. The region offered „significant potential for energy supply diversification and it is therefore an important component of the EU's external energy strategy,” the commission said.
Plans for a new trans-Caspian trans-Black Sea energy corridor included several technical options for additional gas exports from Central Asia through the Black Sea region to the EU, the commission added. Increased cooperation will also involve initiatives on better managing migration and tackling illegal migration from the Black Sea region into the EU. „Important illegal migration routes run through the Black Sea region, making regional cooperation on these issues particularly relevant,” the commission said.