The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Nikos Lampropoulos, Director of EurActiv.gr.

After long discussions between Member States and the European Commission followed by a 3 months public consultation, the Commission officially launched the Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region on June 18th.

About the Strategy

“The general objective of the new Strategy is to promote economic and social prosperity and growth in the region by improving its attractiveness, competitiveness and connectivity. The Strategy should also play an important role in promoting the EU integration of Western Balkans[1]

The Strategy covers eight countries. Four member states: Italy, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia. And four non-EU countries: Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It will remain though open for other countries to participate at a later stage.

According to the official communication of the European Commission[2] EUSAIR benefits from the over decade experience of the inter-governmental Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, the Maritime Strategy for the Area, adopted on November 30th, 2012[3] and the lessons from the existing macro-region Strategies.

Four pillars are foreseen:

  1. Blue Growth to drive innovative maritime and marine growth in the Region by promoting sustainable economic development and jobs and business opportunities in the Blue economy, including fisheries and aquaculture
  2. Connecting the Region to improve transport and energy connectivity in the Region and with the rest of Europe
  3. Environmental quality to address environmental quality through cooperation at the level of the Region
  4. Sustainable tourism to develop the full potential of the Region in terms of innovative, sustainable, responsible quality tourism

Every pillar is coordinated by two countries: Greece and Montenegro for Blue Growth, Italy and Serbia for Connectivity, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for Environment and Croatia and Albania for tourism.

European Commission claims that the Strategy will benefit all stakeholders of the Region at any political level. It also says that EUSAIR will –among others- ensure the sustainable use of sea and coasts and the coexistence of different economic activities, improve the sustainability of fisheries, increase safety and security at sea, protect biodiversity, facilitate nautical and cruise tourism and increase off-season arrivals by 50%[4].

Is this dream real?

Sounds like an ideal plan for an area that is suffering to find its place in the European project. But can this dream become a reality?

Following the extremely successful examples of the Danube Strategy and the Baltic Sea one could presume that. Both these areas though were quite more homogeneous than the area of Adriatic and Ionian. And they didn’t suffer from nationalistic tensions among the countries, at least not to the same extend.

The EUSAIR Strategy sets a foursome of quite ambitious goals. But it is not clear who will take the lead to implement them. 2 coordinators per pillar might sound a balanced proposal but it is more an effort to keep everyone happy and engaged. The leading force is still missing. Who will be setting the milestones, measuring the implementation and the results, branding the Communication? Which body is responsible to judge if a pillar needs to be strengthen or change?

Governance –an intergovernmental approach

From what it is presented so far in the Communication to the other EU Institutions, the Commissions seems to favorite the Intergovernmental approach[5]: In only three paragraphs the paper vaguely refers to the role of the Commission as “independent facilitator” and calls for stronger political leadership not through new funds or bureaucracy, but based on the “line ministries and implementing bodies”.

In the supportive analytical document[6] that accompanies the Communication, four option regarding the role of the Commission. But for the time being it seems that the scenario selected is not the one contemplating a permanent secretariat to administrate/facilitate the Strategy.

The Report for the governance of the macro-regional strategies[7] is maybe more enlightening for the model the European Institutions seem to favorite, as in page 4 identifies the Adriatic-Ionian Council, at foreign minister level, as a key driver for the Strategy.

But it is the same report that one can already read the implications of this proposal: Ministerial meetings are neither systematic nor concrete and the gap between declarations and results remains huge.

What the Commission is not tackling at all is the low level of participation of all the other stakeholders in a governing system that is run by the Ministers and Coordinated by the Commission. Local and Regional level seem to be left out, together with the NGOs.

There is a line in COM(2014) 357, that key stakeholders should be involved in implementation, but there is nothing related to the governance of the Strategy. Once again the Regions and the Municipalities will be left to “fight” with their national governments without any ground for real inter-regional cooperation.

It needs to become clear though that time has come for the Regions and other local authorities to be involved not only in consultations and implementation, but to the planning and governance of strategies and funding related to their citizens and members.

Too many obligations too little money

It is clear that no separate budget is foreseen for the Strategy. This not necessarily wrong, on the contrary: The partners need to decide democratically, among them, how to spend their money and how to prioritize their actions in order to achieve the best results.

But budget is always linked with governance: If no extra money is foreseen, then each country will dedicate from its own budget, for its own projects and its own beneficiaries. How productive can this be in long term? And how can one country have a say on another’s budget?

The political message that occurs is even vaguer than the coordinating system. EUSAIR is supporting regional cross-border cooperation (meaning cooperation at local and regional level, overcoming national borders) by enhancing transnational/ministerial cooperation!

This quite unclear (yet) and not quite promising system has one more handicap to cover: the lack of any administration dedicated to the implementation of the Strategy. Besides the European Commission maybe no other ministry or entity is willing to assign staff full time in EUSAIR policies.

The European Commission is trying somehow to fill this gap, pushing for INTERACT to play a more active role in coordinating with the Strategies of Danube and Alpine. But INTERACT failed already to play a significant role among INTERREG programs and what could only offer would be support on communication. Unless a new Interact Point within the Ionian Adriatic area will be established, INTERACT will not manage to play a decisive role within the Strategy.

Conclusion

The new Strategy for Ionian Adriatic is a significant step forward for the broader Region of the South and the Balkans. It is a unique opportunity to finally engage stakeholders in the area in common projects with real, measurable, tangible results. And the European Commission managed to balance among member states and non members in a way that everybody seems more or less satisfied.

But to manage implement the Strategy successfully –as the examples of the Danube and Baltic Sea managed so far- it is of outmost importance to decide on the leadership and make the system more inclusive in decision making, but at the same time more concrete in administration. The area has many “specialties” that should be taken into account. The Strategy for Adriatic Ionian Region should not become “just another declaration”.

 

This text was initially published in the European Business Review Magazine September 2014


[2] Communication form the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions COM(2014) 357 p.3-4

[3] COM(2012)713

[4] MEMO 14/429 Q&A on the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) 18-6-2014

[5] COM(2014) 357 p.10-11

[6] SWD(2014) 191

[7] COM(2014) 284

 

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