28 May, 2023
Lyubomir Kyuchukov (photo: Petar Ganev)

The most natural collaboration in the EU is the one between Romania and Bulgaria, thinks the Bulgarian diplomat

Vladimir Mitev

Lyubomir Kyuchukov is a Bulgarian diplomat and foreign policy expert. He has graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and has specialized in the Georgetown University in Washington. He has started his diplomatic career as an attaché in the Bulgarian embassy in Bucharest. He has been deputy minister of foreign affairs, a member of the Council for European and Euroatlantic Integration at the Presidency of Bulgaria, a member of the Council for Eurointegration at the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria. In the period 2009-2012 he was the Bulgarian ambassador to London. At this moment he is the director of the Institute for Economy and International Relations. He speaks English, Russian, Romanian, French and can use Italian language.

Mr. Kyuchukov, the idea for the creation of an European strategy for the Black Sea region, which could become an initiative of Sofia in the times of the Bulgarian presidency of the EU in the first half of 2018 was presented at a round table, organized in April 2017 in Sofia by The Institute for Economy and International Relations, The Friedrich Ebert Foundation and The Bulgarian Diplomatic Society. What is the essence of this idea? What are the concrete actions of the EU and of the regional countries that could become its materialization?

The proposal which was launched by ambassador Bisserka Benisheva and me is that Bulgaria, in the frame of its presidency of the Council of the EU, should accept as its political priority the development of a Black Sea agenda of the EU. In other words, this is a long-term strategy of the EU for the Black Sea region. Additionally, a few years ago the European Parliament approved a resolution which urged for such an action. In 2003 Greece put as a priority of its presidency the accession of the Balkans in the EU. As a result, the Thessaloniki Agenda was promulgated and it has determined the European policy towards the region ever since. The Mediterranean Union was formed in the times of the French presidency in 2008. It comprises of the 28 member-states of the EU and of 15 states of the North Africa and Middle East. In parallel to that, the EU has its own strategy for the Baltic region with advanced forms and an established collaboration network, which includes also Russia. It looks like the only “ownerless” sea of the EU is the Black Sea.

After 2013 the confrontation in the Black Sea region grows. At this moment Turkey and Russia have complicated relations with the EU, while Ucraine and Russia are in a conflict. To what extent the initiative for an European strategy for the Black Sea region and for a more intensive regional cooperation is possible to be realized in these conditions of confrontation? How would it be possible for this initiative to influence the contradictions inside the region and between the EU and separate countries in it?

The problems are present and are numerous: the conflict in Ucraine, Crimea, the all too many frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space, the escalation of tensions and arms race of the Cold War type, the frictions along the geopolitical power lines of conflictuous interests, the risks caused by the international terrorism and radical islam, and so on. Even the very counting of these many conflicts themselves shows that it is not enough if they are simply stated as facts, but it is also necessary for an active and joint solution of them to be found. A passive position will resolve none of these problems. For the EU to be a factor in the region, it must have a proactive, united and consistent position. It should formulate its clear strategic goals. In the present moment the EU has lowered its activity in the dimensions of the region. It has put the emphasis upon the security problems, including in the frame of NATO, while at the same time an increased, although tumultuous collaboration between the two regional powers – Russia and Turkey, takes place. All that makes the debates about the creation of a EU strategy not only necessary, but also too delayed.

Lyubomir Kyuchukov was interviewed by the emission ”Saturday 150” of the Bulgarian National Radio. The topics of discussion were basically two – the idea for European strategy towards the Black Sea and the existential choice before the Balkans. The interview is in Bulgarian and has English and Romanian subtitles.

The Bulgarian vice prime minister Denitsa Zlateva has participated with a speech at the aforementioned round table. What is the position of the Bulgarian government about the idea? To what extent the idea is known in the European countries and in the countries of the Black Sea region? How is it seen by them?

For such an idea to become a state policy, it needs to be recognized most of all by the government and by the state institutions. In the frames of the debates the idea was supported by the vice prime minister who is also responsible for the European affairs. But it is the new Bulgarian government that is going to stipulate the final position upon the proposal. The next steps would be its consultations with other member-states of the EU that are interested in the matter. It is natural that the first states to be consulted are Romania and Germany. Together with them Bulgaria has outlined the Black Sea Synergy 10 years ago. Consultations must be held with the European Commission and with the other two countries of the threesome with which Bulgaria forms a group in the times of its presidency of the EU – Estonia and Austria, for the Black Sea to be included as a topic in the agenda of these presidencies. It’s positive that Austria has been traditionally active in the frame of the Danube partnership, and with regard to the connection of the Danubean and the Black Sea regions. Also, after the Austrian presidency comes the Romanian one. And Bucharest has always wanted to play an active role in the Black Sea region. In other words, the creation of a Black Sea strategy of the EU could begin in the times of the Bulgarian presidency of the EU and to finish with its approval in the times of the Romanian one.

In 2008 the EU promulgates with the leading role of Germany, Romania and Bulgaria the concept of the Black Sea Synergy. What are differences between the current initiative and the Black Sea Synergy? What makes necessary the upgrade of the latter 10 years after its start?

The Black Sea Synergy was an important moment in EU’s turn to the South-East. It professed an inclusive approach with the participation of all the countries from the wide Black Sea region and spurred many concrete forms of multilateral cooperation with the active participation of the EU. On the other hand, the Black Sea Synergy didn’t have a serious financial resource, which limited additionally its effectivity. It suffered strongly as a result of the political confrontation in the region, as the attention was turned with priority towards another European policy – the Eastern Partnership. However, it embodied an exclusive approach towards Russia and Turkey.

The tenth anniversary of the Black Sea Synergy urges for an analysis and a recapitulation of its effectivity be made and for a solution to its future be found. I believe that they Synergy should be reactivated by way of receiving an additional financial and institutional resource, while at the same time it is upraged and becomes a practice mechanism for the realization of the wider and long-term strategic approach of the EU towards the region of the Black Sea, as it is embodied in the Black Sea Agenda.

It looks like in the EU there is a surge of the regional communication – for example in the Mediterranean forms of dialogue or in the frame of the Group of Visegrad. To what extent the initiative of the Black Sea euroregion is an answer to this tendency of regionalism in the European politics? How could it become a part of the plans for redefinition of the Union?

The EU is amidst a period of hard debates about its future. No matter how many are the scenarios – 5, as the White Book of the European Commission states, 15 or even 55, in reality there are only two possible directions: backwards towards the Europe of the nations (for me it rather means “Europe of nationalisms”) and forwards, towards a new level of integration. For the time being the idea for Europe of the different speeds dominates. It allows for the preservation of the union of the Union after Brexit, but also sets more serious problems and divisions for the future. In difference to this approach, the ideas for the development of a more active regional cooperation and interaction doesn’t form new levels of integration, but help in the search for common positions and approaches towards problems of common interest for a new member-states of the EU. Seen from this point of view, the formation of a Black Sea macroregion couldn’t serve such functions, as two member-states of the EU, and countries, which aren’t members of the Union, would participate in it.

The EU in general supports the creation of macroregions that aim to search for solutions of common problems for the countries of a certain geographic region, for development of the collaboration and reaching of an economic, social and territorial cohesion. At this moment there are four European macroregions: Baltic (with the participation of the Russian regions), Danubean, Adratico-Ionian and Alpean. The creation of the Black Sea macroregion could become the carrying construction of the Strategy of the EU for Black Sea and an effective instrument for its implementation, as the macroregion have access to the European Structural and Investment Funds.

However, in South-Eastern Europe there is a place for regional collaboration in the frame of the EU. Two years ago together with the former foreign minister Solomon Pasy launched the idea for the creation of a Group B-5 (or “Balkan Visegrad”) with the participation of Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Croatia and Slovenia (in case it is interested). The example of the Group of Four from the Central Europe is sufficiently convincing for the role and the advantages of a similar collaboration.

Romania and Bulgaria have been perceived for quite some time as a group by their European partners. But it looks like instead of forming a duo in their bilateral communication, they have their differences. What could be the parameters of their more active collaboration in bilateral plan and in the Black Sea, if the region is defined not as a challenge of security, but as a place of mutual profitable economic projects in the spirit of the regional collaboration?

Following the power of a not quite understandable logic in the times of both countries candidacy and in the first years of their EU membership Bulgaria and Romania seemed to have been more in a regime of competition, than in the times of collaboration. There is an explanation behind this phenomenon, but it could hardly serve as a vindication – both countries were under pressure by the need to finish the necessary reforms, by the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verifcation, by the serious internal problems. There is hardly a more natural cooperation in the frame of the EU than the one between Romania and Bulgaria – both through the prism of the common problems, which they solve (the abolishment of the MCV, the accession in Schengen, possibly in the Eurozone, the security in the region of the Black Sea and Balkans, and so on) and with regard to the coordination and the protection of joint ideas and initiatives in the frame of the EU. It is of major importance for both countries to try to change two things. The first is the attitude towards them as problematic members of the EU. The second is the image of our region as an European periphery, which generates more problems that the added value it brings to the whole EU. The creation of infrastructure for practical bilateral and multilateral connections in the region and of a network of forms for discussion and cooperation, in spite of the many problems and conflicts here, is an obligatory premise for this.

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