Targeting Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and regional heavyweights Russia and Turkey, the plan -- dubbed the "Black Sea Synergy" -- fits neatly into the bloc's existing framework of regional cooperation schemes.
However, the European Union has ruled out contributing additional funds or setting up new institutions for the initiative.
Despite that roadblock, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in unveiling the new venture today that she hopes it will help focus EU attention on the region -- and perhaps more importantly, help bring the countries in the region together.
She said that enhanced direct contacts among the countries in the region will yield significant "added value" to their relationship with the European Union.
"The added value is, indeed, to have a greater focus on the region -- [that is] No. 1," Ferrero-Waldner said. "No. 2 -- to have more cross-border projects. No. 3, I would say, via the dialogue between these countries to have more confidence -- and if you have confidence then I think you can also tackle difficult questions, more difficult questions, and I think that is the major thrust of it."
Ferrero-Waldner said she hopes EU member states will endorse the initiative during their June summit in Brussels.
The Black Sea region has acquired greater importance to the EU following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the bloc. The new Black Sea Synergy initiative also targets eastern members of the EU Neighborhood Policy (ENP) -- Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, as well as nonmember regional heavyweights Russia and Turkey. Greece will also be directly involved. Direct access to the Black Sea is not a precondition for participation in the proposed scheme.
The EU hopes to link to the existing Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) -- which includes all the countries mentioned above, along with Albania and Serbia.
Ferrero-Waldner said the European Union envisages holding joint ministerial meetings with the BSEC, as well as separate talks with the five eastern ENP countries at the same occasions.
Lots Of Issues
She said regional cooperation with the Black Sea countries could encompass a wide range of issues.
"We [have] identified a huge number of tasks, let me just mention a few of them," Ferrero-Waldner said. "For instance, developing a sustainable and ecological oil dimension to cooperation in the region. Then, a comprehensive regional dialogue on energy security -- again the regional aspect, as you see. Then, streamlining various transport cooperation activities."
The European Commission's proposal says that regional cooperation will always remain "complementary" to already existing policies and agreements. The proposal identifies human rights standards, democracy, and good governance as the top priorities.
Ferrero-Waldner gave assurances today that the EU will continue pushing for concrete reforms through existing agreements, such as its cooperation agreement with Russia, the EU Neighborhood Policy action plans for the Caucasus countries and Ukraine and Moldova; and its association treaty with Turkey.
Similarly, although the Black Sea initiative identifies the region's "frozen conflicts" as one of its priorities, no new initiatives are planned. Instead, the EU hopes to build confidence among the countries involved by means of the increased regular contacts that enhanced regional cooperation is expected to bring with it.
The new initiative puts a particular focus on energy cooperation. The European Commission restates its commitment to developing "a new trans-Caspian trans-Black Sea energy corridor," without offering, however, any further elucidation of the concept.