Black Sea Economic Cooperation marks 29th anniversary

By Aysu Bicer

ANKARA (AA) – The idea for establishing the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) came from Turkey, and was a stroke of genius, according to Michael Christides, the group's secretary-general.

Now the BSEC, which aims to ensure stability in the Black Sea basin and achieve economic, social, and cultural rapprochement with regional countries, is celebrating its 29th anniversary.

"If the BSEC didn't exist, we should have invented it because beyond everything else, it is serving today, and it was serving also yesterday, as a first-level confidence-building mechanism," Christides said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency.

“And unfortunately, this is a mechanism that today we need very much, because there are problems that exist among some of our member states, and sometimes they do cast a shadow on the performance of the organization," he added.

The Istanbul-headquartered bloc, which has matured its institutional structure with more than a quarter-century of experience, is a platform for discussing problems in Russia's relations with countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, as well as issues between the Caucasus states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Despite problems, Christides said, he believes there is a tacit agreement among member states that the group should not be politicized.

"We’re focusing on our main aim, which is the promotion of the economic cooperation among all member states and beyond," he said.

Since its establishment, it has offered a lot to the region, he stressed, adding that BSEC gave birth to other organizations.

"We are the only family of a regional organization that has the inter-governmental part,” he said, explaining: “We have the Parliamentary Assembly of BSEC, we have our own bank, the Black Sea, Trade and Development Bank, and we have the Business Council, which is our window to private business, and we have our own think tank also, which is the Center for Black Sea Studies."

He also said BSEC members are discussing a contest project to find start-up companies which have the newest and most innovative ideas for tourism in a broad context, such as solutions for airlines for travel agencies, for hotels, for restaurants, and so on.

Amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, he said, BSEC countries agreed on a set of common safety, health, and security measures that could help revive tourism.

"We’re doing a lot, but we could have done better, because as a regional organization, the responsibility is even greater during challenging times," he said.

He also said he hopes member states will see the advantages of working together, regionally, and not having only bilateral agreements among themselves, but a regional agreement.

– Post-Cold War roots

The process of establishing the BSEC began in the late 1980s amid the rapid winds of change in both Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union.

With the collapse of communism in 1990, countries in the region began to rapidly transition to free market economies, with mutual needs providing the necessary environment for the establishment of regional economic cooperation.

Turgut Ozal, who was then Turkey’s president, was the first to see these conditions, and under his guidance, the group’s foundation process started in 1990 at a meeting in the capital Ankara with the participation of four countries.

In 1992, the BSEC was launched as a regionally owned initiative. With Turkey’s lead, in Istanbul, it started as a platform for dialogue and cooperation.

The BSEC’s current member states are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

As a founding member, Turkey hosts BSEC headquarters and secretariat and closely follows the bloc’s activities.