Black Sea Synergy: success in regional cooperation despite challenges

The new geopolitical context changed by Russia’s aggression highlights the importance of security and stability in the Black Sea for regional cooperation and resilience: Black Sea Synergy - 4th review of a regional cooperation initiative for the 2019-2023 period


The 4th implementation report of the Black Sea Synergy for the 2019-2023 period was published on 3 July in the form of a Joint Staff Working Document by the EEAS and the Commission services. Since 2007 the Black Sea Synergy (BSS) has been the EU’s regional policy framework for the Black Sea region, aiming to ensure policy coherence and further cooperation between the countries surrounding the Black Sea, as a flexible framework for developing practical region-wide solutions.

The report addresses regional and global challenges in the Black Sea region and presents the Synergy successful strands of work and flagship initiatives, alongside key achievements in all areas of cooperation. This offers a solid basis of work in view of the European Council conclusions of 27 June inviting the Commission and the High Representative to prepare a Joint Communication on building an EU strategic approach to the Black Sea.

Since 2019, the Black Sea Synergy has been implemented in a context marked in particular by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The EU Strategic Compass for Security and Defence, the EU Maritime security strategy together with the Global Gateway have been important EU policy developments for the implementation of the Black Sea Synergy. Increased synergies with other policy frameworks have been equally factored in, such as with the Eastern Partnership, its 2020 new agenda on recovery, resilience and reform together with the flagship initiatives under its Economic and Investment Plan.

At the same time, the EU enlargement process has gained momentum and relevance for the Black Sea region with the decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, and to grant Georgia the status of a candidate country on the understanding that certain reform steps are taken.

The report points that the consequences of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, undermining the rules-based international order and security in the Black Sea, Europe and beyond, have added to the challenges and threats experienced already by the region. A new dimension has been brought to the transnational security threats, as navigation remains under pressure from floating sea mines and ongoing naval warfare. Similarly, Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine has brought new economic, commercial or environmentally related challenges, as war-related pollution figures high. The report also highlights that freedom of navigation is obstructed and reached its lowest point since Second World War. It also underscored that Russia has been deliberately weaponising food and energy, jeopardizing global food security. This comes in a package with false narratives by the Russian state-controlled media propaganda, malign activities and hybrid warfare.

As part of the EU’s response, Russia’s participation in the Black Sea Synergy has been suspended, as well as all forms of cooperation with Russian public stakeholders. The EU’s approach to the regional cooperation in the Black Sea continues to be grounded in respect for the norms and principles of international law, especially sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within internationally recognised borders, as well as for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This report confirms the wide range of EU activities in the Black Sea region that have sought to address existing and new challenges in the region.

Despite Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, activities under the Black Sea Synergy have been successfully implemented in all its fields of cooperation and have helped strengthen the interconnection among them. These fields are: (i) integrated maritime policy and sustainable blue economy; (ii) fisheries and aquaculture; (iii) environmental protection and climate change; (iv) cross-border cooperation - Black Sea basin programme 2014-2020, (Interreg VI-B) NEXT Black Sea basin programme; (v) civil society engagement, democracy and human rights; (vi) education, research and innovation (beyond the marine sector), culture and tourism; and (vii) energy and transport. 

The implementation of the Synergy has also resulted in increased engagement by most of the participating countries, except Russia, in its two milestone initiatives on maritime affairs and marine research and innovation: the Common Maritime Agenda for the Black Sea and its scientific pillar, the common Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda for the Black Sea, despite Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. This showed the potential of the Black Sea Synergy to act as a facilitator for cooperation and cohesion for all riparian states and beyond.

The ‘EU-Ukraine Solidarity Lanes’, although designed to cover Ukrainian exports and needs for imports of essential goods, have proven to be a lifeline for Ukraine’s economy and showcased the flexible and proactive cooperation on the part of a number of Black Sea riparian countries.

Building on the Black Sea Synergy, a more strategic approach to the Black Sea will contribute to unlock the economic, democratic and cooperative potential of the region in a secure and stable environment. Black Sea regional cooperation will be key to deal with transnational challenges such as demining and pollution.