Eight countries united by two seas

EU Commission: concrete projects to draw the eastern and western shores closer

“Working together to tackle common challenges and promote shared potential makes great sense. The Adriatic Ionian will be Europe’s third macro-regional strategy. The countries involved should learn lessons from the Baltic Sea and Danube Strategies, namely the importance of focusing on a few priorities with strong political leadership, if it is to have a real impact”. On June 18 European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn presented a proposal for a new EU Adriatic-Ionian Macroregion involving eight countries – four from the EU (Italy, Croatia, Greece and Slovenia) and four non-EU (Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia). It is an unprecedented challenge regarding transnational cooperation of the EU. “Integrating the Balkans”. The Adriatic-Ionian cooperation plan focuses on the maritime economy including fishery, maritime environment, infrastructures and transport, research and innovation, energy, tourism, historical and cultural relations. “In a region that has seen some of Europe’s most serious recent conflicts” – Hahn opportunely pointed out referring to former Yugoslavia – “the Adriatic Ionian Strategy, with its cooperation between EU and non-EU neighbouring countries, could also play an important part in helping the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union”. The EU will launch concrete “rapprochement” programs for the eight countries, also based on the experience of the other two macro-regional strategies undertaken so far for the Baltic and the Danube. It will take time. As relates to funds, at present “existing” funds will be put to worth in terms of investment and social cohesion, including pre-adhesion funding. “The EUSAIR Strategy “will not come with extra EU funding” – the Executive made known – “but it should mobilize and align existing EU and national financing as well as attracting private investments”. A few more months are needed to get in full swing. In fact, the Commission advanced a proposal following a specific request made by the European Council in December 12. The project enjoyed the cooperation of the previous EU rotating presidencies, especially Greece; while the Italian presidency will take over in the second semester of 2014. Sea, a resource. Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries said about EUSAIR: “The maritime challenges we face in the Adriatic and Ionian Region are not unique to any one country: from overfishing to pollution, traffic congestion, transport connections and seasonal tourism: the only way that makes sense to tackle these issues is the united, coherent way”. Since “there is growth potential in many of these areas, the action plan for the Adriatic Ionian can help propel the region out the crisis and put its economy back on track”. The two Commissioners pointed out that a pair of countries – one EU Member State and one non-EU country- “coordinated the development of each element of the Action Plan: Greece and Montenegro defined the priorities and initiatives “Blue Growth”, which involves the enhancement of sea-resource; Italy and Serbia cooperated on the theme: Connecting the Region” (transport and energy networks including the Transadriatic pipeline, that should bring the Azerbaijani gas in EU households, passing, inter alia, by Greece, Albania and Italy; Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have dealt with environmental quality; Croatia and Albania have developed ideas and actions with regard to “sustainable tourism”. Operative proposals. The strategy includes aspects for possible cooperation beyond national borders, describes as “cross-cutting”. These are: “capacity building as well as research, innovation and small and medium size business, Climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as disaster risk management”. There are also possible projects to be launched regarding Eusaid pillars: for Blue Growth, for example, emerge “Regular stock assessments for sustainable fisheries management”; regional connections include the improvement of the compulsory communication system of ships in the Adriatic and accessibility of coastal areas and neighbouring islands; environmental protection includes the CleanSea project “to keep European seas clean, healthy and productive”; finally, in the area of tourism indicative projects include facilitating access to finance for tourism start-ups.

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