Panel 1: Unrewarding Crossroads: The Black Sea Region amidst the EU and Russia

Introductory remarks: Georgi Pirinski, Member of the European Parliament, ECFR Council Member (Bulgaria)

Andrey Makarychev, Visiting Professor at University of Tartu in Estonia (Russia)

Ghia Nodia, Chairman of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (Georgia)

Iryna Solonenko, DAAD/OSF Scholar at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder (Ukraine)

Richard Giragosian, Founding Director of Regional Studies Center (Armenia)

Moderator: Louisa Slavkova, ECFR/Sofia Platform (Bulgaria)

The discussion was focused on two main questions. Firstly, the participants asked what the countries from the region want from the EU. Secondly, they reflected on the question of what the EU should do vis-à-vis the region.

The dynamics within the Black Sea region was often perceived as a competition between the alluring power of Russia and Turkey. A suggestion for a possible way of avoiding this dynamics featured the creation of a new European macro-region including the Western Balkans and the Black Sea region, i.e. thinking of those as one region and merging together the activities of BSEC and SEECP.

A second line of competition appears between Russia and the EU. There is a visible competition over integration in the region that juxtaposes EU’s attractiveness to Russia’s coercion and pressure. Russia is a power that really contests, while the EU needs a clear sense of direction. At the technical level, the EU is doing a good job through increased funding and conditionality, but the Union is a weak political actor. Although some member states compensate this weakness, in the long term the EU should think about changing its system of partners. At the same time, the lens of geopolitics is not the only framework to look at the situation as some problems are a result of economic and local issues.

Within this competitive context, the EU’s soft-power concept could be easily challenged by Russia as it entails fostering liberal changes, while the Russian soft power is conservative with religious components and does not seek change. Unlike the EU, Russia accepts its partners without being too demanding. In addition, behind Russia’s soft power lies hard power.

At the same time, it is perceived that the problems in the region are not in fact regional but structural and are caused by Russia as the only nation state that is able and willing to question the foundations of the international system. Therefore, policy-makers should look at the regional situation in a global and structural context and divest themselves of wishful thinking. Depriving Putin of the attention he desperately needs might be a key strategy. EU’s attention should be focused on cooperation with well-behaved countries instead of on Russia.

Two possible game changers in the region could be the promise of normalization in relations between Armenia and Turkey and the agreement with Iran.

Main recommendations:

  • The mission of the ENP should be preserved but the instruments should be adjusted. The EU should keep up its ambition to promote stability and democracy in the region;
  • Mechanisms should be created for avoiding the danger of equating countries and societies with their government. The EU should listen more to voices within the society that are not represented in government;
  • The EU needs more consistency in terms of a constant unfaltering message;
  • The EU needs to create conditions for more connectivity between civil society organisations in the Eastern Partnership countries;
  • The EU needs to improve its communication, in order to avoid complacency and be better able to articulate, define and defend European values;
  • What the EU can undertake vis-à-vis Russia beyond sanctions includes, avoiding the “business-as-usual” and “Russia-first” paradigms, continuing with the progress on association agreements; and finally, putting forward a third try-out of the Black sea region concept – a new type of Black Sea regionalism can be a new path to the EU for some countries such as Armenia and Ukraine;
  • Unilateral trade liberalization and introduction of non-visa regimes could be pragmatic instruments of key importance that has never been used towards the region so far.

3F2C4643 2Image00073

Listen to the whole Panel 1 “Unrewarding crossroads: the Black Sea region amidst the EU and Russia” discussion here: