Economic Diplomacy for the Enhancement of Macro-Regional Cooperation Forms in Europe – with special focus on the EU strategy for the Danube Region

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Author: Dr. Edita Stojić Karanović, Research Professor, Former Director of the Institute of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade, President of the International Scientific Forum “Danube 0 River of Cooperation”

Lecture held at the NEW DIPLOMACY FORUM 2015, in Belgrade, National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, June 4, 2015.

Starting from the definition of Economic diplomacy as the art of serving economic security and strategic interests of the country in conduct of state-to-state relations – I would like to draw your attention to the Economic diplomacy needed for regional cooperation forms based on sustainable use of natural resources of cross-border regions. The desired economic security – that also ensures, or at least supports maintaining social and political security – is better achievable for countries by taking part in regional cooperation.

The Economic Diplomacy has crucial role in establishing cross-border regional cooperation and takes place in two directions, which are mutually facing: the bottom up and the top to bottom directions. Inclusion of civil society in both directions is crucial.

Some natural resources that countries share, are smaller, some are larger. Therefore international cooperation around resources with smaller territorial scope has the form of a micro-region. If the local territorial entities are from different countries, these micro-regions are called Euro-regions. The term Euroregion usually refers to a transnational co-operation structure between two, or more neighbouring territories located in different European countries. Euroregions represent a specific type of cross-border region. This form of cross-border cooperation started in the 1970s. One of them was the EUregio Rhine-Waal with participation of neighbouring municipalities of Germany and Netherlands.

But Euroregions in the largest number were founded in the 1990s and in the 2000s.
Let me mention only those with participation of local governments from Serbia:
In 1992 was established Danube 21 Euroregion with local territorial units of Bulgaria (the municipality Vidin), Romania (the municipality Calafat) and Serbia (the municipality Zaječar).

A couple of years later Danube–Criș–Mureș–Tisa Euroregion was established with 4 counties from Romania, 3 counties from Hungary and the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina from Serbia.

Municipalities of Niš from Serbia, Sofija from Bulgaria, Skoplje from Macedonia in 2002 established Euroregion named Eurobalkans.

In 2003 Drina-Sava-Majevica Euroregion with participation of contiguous local governments from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia with the aim to cooperate in sustainable use of the Rivers Sava and Drina, and the low mountain range in north-eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Majevica.

In 2006 Stara Planina Euroregion was established with 7 Bulgarian and 4 Serbian municipalities.

Let me mention that the International Scientific Forum “Danube – River of Cooperation” – the interdisciplinary association of experts and researchers dedicated to improve international cooperation in the field of sustainable development and sustainable use of natural, cultural and historical resources in the Danube-basin – proposed the establishment of Euroregion Middle-Danube – Iron Gate. As an example of practising Economic Diplomacy to enhance regional cooperation for sustainable development of a cross-border micro-region, let me give you some insights in the preparatory process for establishment of this Euroregion:

The creation of the initiative for this Euroregion started after a research work on the natural and industrial wealth of the cross-border region around the Iron Gate hydro-power plant and navigation system. It was researched who could be the possible stakeholders, what interest they would have and then they were contacted and were acquainted with the importance and advances of their cross-border cooperation in a form of Euroregion, which would encourage economic development of resources for transport, industry, agriculture and tourism in the region, and would also ensure better protection of environment and of historical monuments. Then at the 10th and 11th international conferences “Danube – River of Cooperation” held in 1998 and in 2000 Euro-regional cooperation was strongly recommended. Finally, at the 13th international conference “Danube – River of Cooperation” held in Kladovo in 2002 the Agreement was signed by officials of the municipalities situated around the Iron Gate.

The creation of macro-regional cooperation forms requires more complex efforts of Economic Diplomacy. It was important to put much diplomacy, not only with economic but political argumentation, too, for establishment of the Coal and Steel Community proposed by Robert Schuman in May 1950, for example. And a very intense Economic diplomacy was applied for outgrowing the first forms of regional cooperation in Western Europe into the largest regional cooperation form on the continent, the European Union.

Although one of the most important goals of the establishment of all those regional cooperation forms after the World-War-Two was the prevention of any new wars on the territories that were earlier war-effected, the most convincing arguments were the economic reasons, the means of Economic Diplomacy.

After decades of enlargements of the EU it become visible that the member countries significantly differ in the levels of development, as well as in regional resources that they could use for the economic development. Again in the first echelon of Economic diplomacy were researchers and civil society organizations, convincing governmental organizations and authorities at national and EU level that special policy is needed for macro-regions for more adequate use of resources for enhancement of the economic growth and development. After the bottom up Economic diplomacy the top to bottom economic diplomacy began in form of macro-regional strategies of the EU.

A Macro-regional strategy is an integrated framework endorsed by the European Council, which may be supported by the European Structural and Investment Funds among others, to address common challenges faced by a defined geographical area relating to Member States and third countries located in the same geographical area which thereby benefit from strengthened cooperation contributing to achievement of economic, social and territorial cohesion. Until now 4 Macro-regional Strategies were created. These are the strategies for the Baltic Sea macro-region, the Danube basin’s region, the basin of the Adriatic and Ionian seas and the region of the Alps.

The most important for Serbia is the EU Strategy for the Danube region, shortly called Danube Strategy, which sets the basis for the construction of the modern regional group in the international river basin of the Danube. The EU Danube Strategy provides strong support for the development of all countries of the Danube basin, regardless whether they are members of the EU or not, guided by the principles of responsible use of natural resources for sustainable development.

The Danube Strategy was endorsed by the General Affairs Council in April 2011. The adoption of the Action Plan of the Danube Strategy and the First Joint Priority Area Coordinators’ meeting was organized in May the same year. This meeting, which started the implementation phase of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, brought together National Contact Points, Priority Area Coordinators and the Commission to discuss technical issues and establish a common future approach.

The countries in the Danube basin started with preparation of a Danube Projects Portfolio, that is to provide a comprehensive view on the current and future development trends along the river by collecting and editing in a unique form both private and public investments.

As all other countries situated in the Danube basin, Serbia also started to work on its’ own Danube Strategy, to give contribution to EU Strategy for Danube Region with ideas and projects that could be realized in Serbia. The working group for cooperation with the EU in the Danube region was very active. It organized a meeting with representatives of 27 municipalities and cities that have a special interest in the EU’s strategy for the Danube region. This meeting marked the beginning of consultations with the representatives of the local self-government, that gave basis for the Serbian government’s platform for preparation of the EU strategy for the Danube region.

The inclusion of the Republic of Serbia in the development of the Danube Strategy is multiple. It contributes to enhancements of the economic development, integration of sectoral policies of Serbia into the EU development plans, it improve of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Serbia and all other countries in the Danube River Basin. Also, Serbia through its participation in the process of preparation and implementation of the Danube Strategy confirms its strategic commitment for its effective membership in the European Union.

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