EU To Boost Political, Energy Ties With Black Sea Region

The European Union presented plans Wednesday to bolster cooperation with neighbors around the Black Sea, aiming to strengthen much needed energy ties and bring stability to an area plagued by conflict. 

“We think it is important to put a particular focus on this region,” said E.U. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. 

She said that with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the E.U. this year, the bloc now has a bigger stake in the region’s stability. 

The plan aims to spread the E.U.’s influence amid growing European unease over Moscow’s role in the region that includes former Soviet Union republics such as Ukraine and Georgia, which seek closer ties with the West. 

Ferrero-Waldner said her plan was to forge formal links with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation group of 13 nations, which set up a regional economic pact in 1992. It includes three E.U. nations – Bulgaria, Greece and Romania – and also Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey. 

The E.U. views the Black Sea region as increasingly important due to its position on major routes bringing oil and gas to Europe from Russia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. 

The focus on the region follows similar moves to fine tune the E.U.’s ties with North African and Middle Eastern neighbors and with Norway, Iceland and Russia. 

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are already included in what is known as the E.U.’s neighborhood policy, which offers economic and political ties with the 27-nation bloc and more aid, but no promise of future membership. 

The E.U. sees the neighborhood accords as an opportunity to help settle frozen conflicts in the south Caucasus and help nations there normalize frayed ties with Russia. 

Russia and Turkey aren’t involved in the neighborhood policy. Turkey is currently negotiating to join the E.U., while the E.U. is hoping to negotiate a closer “strategic partnership” with Moscow. 

Programs in the policy aim to promote stability and economic prosperity through reforms tacking poverty, corruption and weak governance. The accords signed with participating nations offer broad E.U. cooperation in economic and justice affairs, transport, energy, environment, research, education, health and other sectors.
 
Source: AP

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