The Adriatic and Ionian Sea Macroregion should benefit from an EU strategy similar to those developed for the Baltic Sea and the Danube, Committee of the Regions (CoR) President Mercedes Bresso said today. Speaking to foreign ministers from the region at CoR headquarters, President Bresso underlined the need for urgent closer cooperation in the fields of security, transport and environmental protection, calling on all EU Institutions to bring in their political leverage and technical expertise.
”From overfishing to chemical pollution, the Adriatic and Ionian face many challenges that can only be solved if all neighbouring countries pull in the same direction. Yet, opportunities from the emerging blue and green economy can be seized only if we avoid a piecemeal approach. We have to move fast, and we call on all EU Institutions to make use of their political leverage and technical expertise. A European strategy for the entire Adriatic-Ionian 'macroregion' would give us the means to tackle these issues together. It must be launched right now, at a crucial time for defining priorities on future funding programmes for post-2013, as with cohesion policy”, CoR President Mercedes Bresso emphasised, making explicit reference to the key role of the European Council. Cooperation along these lines is already a reality in the Baltic and the Danube area. Last year, the Committee of the Regions also proposed to extend this “macroregional” approach to the North Sea.
An EU strategy for the region is a key demand of the coastal countries grouped in the Adriatic & Ionian Initiative (AII). To discuss the way forward, President Bresso invited the annual AII ministerial council to CoR headquarters. Today’s meeting brought together Maria Damanaki, the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and the foreign ministers or state secretaries of eight Adriatic and Ionian countries: Edmond Haxhinasto (Albania), Sven Alkalaj (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Gordan Jandrokovic (Croatia), Spyros Kouvelis (Greece), Alfredo Mantica (Italy), Milan Rocen (Montenegro), Vuk Jeremic (Serbia) and Dragoljuba Bencina (Slovenia). Ministers adopted the "Brussels declaration", stating “formal acknowledgement of the strategy at the highest level” as their aim. In this context, they welcomed the conclusions of the EU council of Ministers of 13 April, which invited the Commission to clarify the concept of macroregional strategies and invited member states to continue to work on future strategies in cooperation with the European Commission.
“I applaud the initiative taken by the eight countries”, Commissioner Maria Damanaki told the ministers. “The Adriatic Ionian countries are bound not only by historical links and a common cultural heritage, but also by a shared responsibility for their sea. Many fora for dialogue in the Mediterranean have seen the light. Plenty of discussions are ongoing. For me, it's time for these discussions to produce concrete ideas and real partnerships.”
“I am convinced that cooperation will be essential for identifying and addressing the specific challenges for the marine environment in the Adriatic and Ionian seas and implementing successfully the ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities.” Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said in a written message.
Ministers underlined that a European strategy would be highly beneficial for the Adriatic countries that are not yet EU members. Such a move would “reaffirm that their future lies in the European Union” and would “allow them to advance on the path towards EU accession through a structured framework.” CoR President Bresso equally emphasised this point: “At the moment, only three Adriatic countries are EU members - Greece, Italy and Slovenia, while Croatia is close to the goal. It is clear that the future of the whole region lies in the EU. Stepping up cross-border cooperation, tackling practical issues together, could prove a major milestone on the road to Brussels for candidate countries and potential candidates. A proper involvement of local authorities keeps citizens close to the accession process and informed about its concrete advantages.”
The Committee of the Regions is currently drawing up an own-initiative opinion on the Adriatic-Ionian macroregion. The opinion is being prepared by Gian Mario Spacca (IT/ALDE), President of the Marche Region (Italy). The opinion is scheduled for adoption at the Committee of the Regions' plenary session on 11-12 October in Brussels.
The European Parliament, whose Vice-President Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou has already called on the commission to act on this Macro-region, is expected to follow this up.