The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) held a conference entitled ‘Regional economic cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe’ on 25 November 2019. The event also gave the opportunity to Georgios Mitrakos, Director General of the International Centre for Black Sea Studies (ICBSS) and Márton Ugrósdy, Director of IFAT, to sign the Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation between their respective institutions.
On behalf of IFAT, Mr. Ugrósdy welcomed the guests and enhanced the importance of regional cooperation. His opening remarks were followed by the keynote speech of Péter Sztáray, Minister of State for Security Policy at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He highlighted that interstate cooperation platforms are the building blocks of political achievements and emphasised Hungary’s success story by establishing the V4, taking part in various forms of regional cooperation as well as by joining NATO and EU. Lastly, Mr. Sztáray stressed the necessity of deepening and broadening such connections.
Michael Christides, Secretary General of the Permanent International Secretariat of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) also underlined the need for cooperation in the time of globalisation and rapid technological development. He outlined that many challenges – for instance climate change and natural disasters – do not stop at national borders; hence, neighbouring nations must cooperate. Reflecting to Mr. Sztáray, Ambassador Christides also stressed the importance of establishing closer cooperation with Hungary. As goals to follow, he wishes to put the emphasis on mechanisms of confidence-building and the establishment of a more project-based cooperation.
The panel discussion, moderated by Ferenc Németh, Research Fellow of IFAT focused on the economic cooperation among three prominent initiatives and the current challenges the region. The opening statements of the panellists gave the audience a brief overview on the work of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation presented by Mr. Mitrakos, the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) embodied by Veronika Jóźwiak, Senior Analyst of The Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) and the Central European Initiative (CEI), introduced by Anna Orosz, Research Fellow of IFAT.
Mr. Mitrakos emphasised the objectives of BSEC: to contribute to the promotion of regional stability and cooperation. The key feature of the 21st century is the ability to adopt to the everchanging economic circumstances. For that purpose, the motivation to renew investments are necessary. Ms. Jóźwiak introduced the three pillars of TSI: economic development, European cohesion and Transatlantic ties. She stressed the need to balance out the role of the USA, thus the need of active contribution to funding. Ms. Orosz shed light on the heterogeneity of the CEI and displayed a wide range of goals of the organisation, such as good governance, economic growth, environmental protection and intercultural cooperation, media freedom as well as scientific and education collaboration. Her conclusions involved the initiative’s focus on the Western Balkans, the need to support the political dialogue and capacity building for project implementation.
As part of the expert roundtable, the need for enhanced cooperation between organisations and the emerging role of China were touched upon. Panellists agreed that sometimes it is challenging to represent so many views within a single initiative. Although it is not easy to harmonize, Ms. Jóźwiak and Mr. Mitrakos underlined that after hours of negotiations, it is always rewarding when members can reach a common ground and move forward together. Thus, these initiatives also try to enhance the need of the culture of dialogue between states.
In response to the rising role of China, the panellists perceive Beijing differently. While Mr. Mitrakos ensured the advocacy of the Beld and Road Initative, Ms. Jóźwiak raised concerns regarding China’s involvement in the continent. Finally, Ms. Orosz pointed out the lack of a united standpoint concerning Chinese economic efforts among participating states of these initiatives.
The conference contributed to a diverse exchange of ideas, allowing the panellists and audience to realize the potentials and constraints of regional economic cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe.