November 29, 2010

Macro-Regions: New Tool Emerging for Regional Cooperation

Macro-regions in the European Union.
Author: Hr. Hrisoskulov
The development of new initiatives for creating new macro-regions in the European Union has recently speeded up considerably, and the range of new fields of regional cooperation is expanding noticeably. The European Commission adopted a Communication on the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region on 10 June 2009. On 8 December 2010 the European Commission will adopt a Communication on the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. Under German EU Presidency in 2007, the EU has developed under the framework of the European Neighbourhood policy a programme, “Black Sea Synergy”, with a number of concrete initiatives looking at areas like transport, energy, the environment, maritime management, fisheries, migration, and the fight against organised crime, the information society and cultural cooperation. The Black Sea region has the potential to become the third macro-region in the European Union.

What is a Macro-Region/ Macro-Regional Strategy?
  • Macro-Region
"There is no standard definition for macro-region (...) The definition applied here (...) will be “an area including territory from a number of different countries or regions associated with one or more common features or challenges.” This carries no implication of scale: however, in an EU context a macro-region will involve several regions in several countries but the number of Member States should be significantly fewer than in the Union as a whole." (Source: Macro-regional Strategies in the European Union) In terms of globalization, macro-region "is a geopolitical subdivision that encompasses several traditionally or politically defined regions". (Source: "Regions, Globalization, and the Knowledge-Based Economy", Edited by John H. Dunning)
  • Macro-Regional Strategy
The idea behind a Macro-regional Strategy is "to add value to interventions, whether by the EU, national or regional authorities or the third or private sectors, in a way that significantly strengthens the functioning of the macro-region. Moreover, by resolving issues in a relatively small group of countries and regions the way may be cleared for better cohesion at the level of the Union. Working together can become a habit and a skill. In addition, overall coordination of actions across policy areas will very likely result in better results than individual initiatives". One should not forget that "the objectives of a macro-regional strategy will clearly vary according to the needs of the regions concerned". (Source: Macro-regional Strategies in the European Union)

Macro-Regions: The Genesis of a new Policy Tool

The Eastern Enlargement shifted European Union's attention to regions where it had so far kept a low profile. The three areas are a kind of a "patchwork familiy". Democracies in the macro-regions, at best, are the exception, or are limited mostly to the Baltic Sea region and the upstream states of the Danube river. The European Union is confronted with different weighting given to economic development and regional trade integration. Weak governance structures and immanent corruption, mostly spread in particular Eastern countries, have destabilized effect on effective regional cooperation in the Black Sea and the Danube regions. Moreover, unresolved conflicts (Armenia/ Azerbaidshan, Ukraine/ Moldova/ Russia/ Romania, Georgia/ Russia, Western Balkans) threaten the formation of credibility among the stakeholders. However, these factors take on a completely different emphasis depending on geographical region.

The EU Strategies for the Baltic Sea and the Danube Region, and the Black Sea Synergy were put forward by the European Commission to increase cooperation with and between the countries surrounding the three regions, and were conceived as a collective solution of engaging local and regional actors across the regions. Growing EU concerns over energy security, environmental pollution, enhanced people-to-people cooperation, upgrading of transport infrastructure, democratic and economic reforms, linked enhanced EU involvement in the regions. Involving regional and local stakeholders should promote better respond to opportunities and challenges in a regional framework.  

The EU Strategies were designed as a flexible framework complementary to existing EU policies, i.e. the European Neighbourhood policy/ Eastern Partnership (relevant for Armenia, Azerbaidshan, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine), Northern Dimension, the strategic partnership with Russia, the pre-accession policy with Turkey and the Western Balkans, and the Cohesion and Regional policy.

Advancement of strategies tasks

Some key areas emerged on the top of the agendas: environment, energy and transport, democracy and conflict resolution (Black Sea region), education and research. Cross border cooperation (CBC) and work with civil society were launched. The cross border cooperation projects received strong financial support (ENPI, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, regional and international financing institutions, 7th European Framework Program, United Nations) in focussing on the redirection of resources towards greater support for the objectives listed in the strategies: economic development, environmental protection, education and research, cross-border cooperation. However, it should be stated that limited progress has been achieved in the Black Sea region than the Baltic Sea region or the Danube river.

The strategies has also attracted and will attract considerable NGO interest. A Black Sea NGO Forum, a Baltic Sea NGO Forum and a Danube Basin NGO Network Project were launched in the framework of the strategies. The Civil Society Forum within the framework of the Eastern Partnership should be mentioned with regard to often complementary, in part however competitive relationship to civil society approaches in the three macro-regions. The overall objective is to strengthen NGOs and their capacities to influence regional and national policies and to create synergies with relevant structures in the regions.

Cooperation with other partner countries (Russia, Norway, Belarus) as well as regional and international organizations is an important step to implement the objectives set by the strategies. The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), and probably the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) offer their governance structure for advanced level of political interaction and dialogue with the European Union as well as related European agencies (European Environment Agency). The interaction between regional organizations and the European Union brought together all major political actors and key regional stakeholders (national and local goevernments, regional organizations, economic actors, civil society, researcher, etc.) on regional and local tensions.

The European strategies have ambitious objectives and have to have appropriate means to achieve them. Moreover, the implementation of the goals relies on the willigness and ability of all the regional and local partners to cooperate.

What for the future?

The aim of the European Union must be to point up the way ahead, to develop a common, well-coordinated plan for the further development of effective and efficient working macro-regions. This could imply an inclusive approach. The European strategies have the capacity to bridge the existing gaps between European policies in the regions (Northern Dimension, Eastern Paertnership and Enlargement policy) and to involve different regional and local stakeholders concerned about local cooperation areas, e.g. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus or Central Asian countries when it comes to energy security, Western Balkan countries when it comes to environmental and transportation security.

The enhancement of bilateral relations between the European Union and the Eastern countries and between the European Union and the accession countries ensures that the Community's interactions and the project range correspond to a positive development. The European Commission launched negotiations on Association Agreements with Ukraine (2007), Moldova (January 2010), and the South Caucasus countries (Juliy 2010) in response to demands of the partner countries to upgrade relations with the European Union.

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EU21Global hat gesagt…

Sweden:EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (Link:

Hungary:EU Strategy for the Danube Region (Link:

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