Goran Svilanovi?: EU Accession Countries Should First Join Energy Union

Interview |Author: Angel Petrov | September 16, 2015, Wednesday // 05:32|  views

Goran Svilanovi?, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council, signing the agreement for his reelection with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov. Photo by Bulgarian News Agency

"We know we have problems, and we are not going to make a list of problems, because then people, politicians may be stimulated to add to the list, rather than ticking off and agreeing on what we have resolved." 

This is what Serbian diplomat and politician Goran Svilanovi?, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), told Novinite in an interview he gave hours before taking part in an energy conference in Bulgaria's capital Sofia on Tuesday.

Mr Svilanovi? on Monday was officially confirmed for a second term at the top of the RCC, a body widely described as "the operative arm" of the organization called South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). The agreement on his reelection was signed by from Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov, who currently serves as SEECP Chairman-in-Office after Bulgaria took over the rotational presidency from Albania earlier this summer.

RCC is also the successor of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe (SPSEE), an organization created by the West and Russia in the 1990s to incite political and economic recovery.

The Energy Security and Energy Infrastructure in South East Europe for its part is aimed at exploring solutions related to energy diversification and security of supplies as part of a broader strategy that, in Mr Svilanovi?'s words, could lead to the integration of non-EU Western Balkan countries into the Energy Union prior to their accession into the EU. 

Mr Svilanovic, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe (SPSEE) turned into a Regional Cooperation Council in 2008 to affirm Southeastern European states' will to take the initiative in their relations. To what extent has this been happening over the past 6 years?

What is written in our statute as Regional Cooperation Council: our task is to facilitate regional cooperation in order to support nations' bid to join the EU and NATO respectively. We are working with a wider groups of economies - thirteen – and we are working with the SEECP, which in this moment is chaired by Bulgaria which took over from Albania this year. As Chair of the SEECP it has defined different goals and they are related to energy cooperation. I just had a meeting yesterday with your Foreign Minister. One of the aims of Bulgaria while chairing is today's conference which will provide an opportunity for Commissioner [Maro?] ?ef?ovi? to explain the Energy Union as a process in which Bulgaria is engaged along with other member states, but also – and this is why I am here – with the accession countries: those who aren’t yet member states but are part of the process in creating the Energy Union. So I hope they are going to be members of the Energy Union, though not yet members of the EU.

Going back to what you are asking – we have a three-year work program. In the heart of it is an increased cooperation among these countries on issues related to economic development and growth. This is why we brokered a deal with the countries that subscribed with the South East 2020 strategy as we call it: creating jobs and a European perspective. A crucial issue for all these countries. Employment is still not sufficiently high. GDP growth is suffering from the crisis that started in 2008, and still we are witnessing a recovery. So it's all about the employment and growth what we are doing at the RCC. How do we go about this – it's an agreement with the ministers of economy, they've set the goals, what they are going to do nationally and what they are going to do on a regional basis. It is all about removing barriers with regard to trade, improved connectivity between the education system and labor market - but also in technical terms - energy, railways, highways.

Let's start with the "physical" part of barriers – infrastructure or lack of infrastructure. There are difficulties for those traveling within a country, into or out of a neighboring country, let alone for tourists from other regions. What is the RCC doing to change this?

We have been tasked now in Vienna at the Western Balkans Summit by all the ministers  and the EU Commission to deal with the soft connectivity - we're not building roads, quite openly. But a substantial amount of resources has been allocated – some EUR 600 M – for these economies to improve infrastructure. Out of these EUR 600 M, 200 M is a grant - money made available through  multi-beneficiary IPA [Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance] programs. The projects have been agreed with the ministers. And although it is focused on these accession countries, the network, highways, railways and energy corridors are part of the broader European network, therefore also very much relevant for Bulgaria. For example part of this project goes from Nis to Sofia and then further to to Istanbul, and also when it comes to the railways this is the same idea – it's basically bringing together the wider Europe, from Istanbul to Munich or so to say. That's why I find this important for EU countries as well – it's part of their own development agenda.

Going back to the RCC and soft connectivity - part of it is for instance removing barriers which exist on the border crossing. Sometimes the problem is office hours – waiting because of office hours not being the same on different sides of the border. That can be easily removed and has nothing to do with money, it's only an agreement between the countries. Another part of improved connectivity is improved mobility of the labor force. A third one is related to roaming tariffs. If you are an investor coming from Bulgaria to Bosnia-Herzegovina– where we are based – you might be surprised how expensive it is to use your cell phone, the Internet, etc. because you are coming from the member states. And this is something on which we need to work with accession countries to bring them to the same level of tariffs, to lower them as a next step and then to bring them on the same level, on the level of the EU. This is part of the broader agenda we call connectivity.

Sometimes problems with connectivity are rather bilateral. What is the RCC's approach to addressing regional relations? You personally moderated in the end of July a debate between Serbia and Albania’s Prime Ministers. What feeling did you get: apart from Kosovo, is there something else hindering dialogue?

The approach of the RCC is regional. But you have mentioned rightly so that there is a list of bilateral disputes - let's be frank and call them what they are. But we have agreed at the Vienna Summit: we know we have problems, and we are not going to make a list of problems, because then people, politicians may be stimulated to add to the list, rather than ticking off and agreeing on what we have resolved. So in Vienna two border agreements have been signed [Bosnia-Montenegro and Montenegro-Kosovo] to help resolve issues – which I find a huge step forward. We believe that between Vienna and Paris, which is the next summit, we'll be able to tick off a few more of these issues, so bilateral disputes are to be resolved bilaterally, but countries need to be encouraged and supported in this process. The role is primarily for the EU, because the compromises which are reached in this process - for example, Brussels Agreement 1, Brussels Agreement 2 between Belgrade and Pristina - are reached in the context of this session. As long as this context exists, as long as these countries are getting closer to and eventually into the EU, it will be easier to reach compromise.

For both EU members and non-EU countries the migrant crisis shaking Europe has also been a major recent development. What would your recommendations be for a successful regional response to the crisis?

I'll try to be frank - and I'm not playing with figures but there are some figures we need to be aware of. My using the UN data is the following: 7 million people are already displaced within Syria. 4.5 million are already outside. In Turkey there are two million but also in the countries around. What I think should be aim number one is to stop the war and atrocities. That keeps people home in their own country. Aim number two: we have to deal with hundreds of thousands who are en route. But as you pointed out yourself there is difference in the attitudes of the countries, and that discussion which took place yesterday in Brussels among the ministers of interior was important. Not all issues have been resolved, there are differences in the attitudes of countries, and we need to keep discussing how to keep alive one of the basic pillars of the EU and this is the freedom of movement and the Schengen system while also discussing the limits of the system being aware of the hundreds of thousands of people coming. RCC has no capacity to deal with this - it is beyond who we are. But what we have done so far - we have provided the gap analysis, social analysis of the gaps when it comes to organized crime and migration. We did it before [the crisis] happened and showed what is lacking in communication between relevant authorities. I'm saying this because yesterday I discussed with your Foreign Minister [Daniel] Mitov the need to focus on smugglers and see them as part of the organized crime.

At the yesterday [Monday] meeting you mentioned, there was an agreement that migrants from the Middle East would be accepted into the EU to the disadvantage of non-EU Western Balkan countries whose citizens seek asylum - their requests will not be processed.

There is a huge difference. One thing are those coming from Serbia, from Bosnia-Herzegovina, from Montenegro and claiming they are asylum seekers. These countries are safe countries, we need to be clear. Which makes immediately a difference between our citizens claiming asylum and migrants from the Middle East – and puts our citizens on a different axis.

Passing on to energy, what future do you foresee for the regional energy market and its integration into the European energy market?

There is no such thing like energy independence. I would like to use the word energy interdependence. There is a clear role for the Energy Community Secretariat – for instance, that is of interest for Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, because they are truly engaged in close cooperation and accepting and adapting the standards of the EU in the field of energy cooperation. By doing this they are actually getting ready for what Commissioner ?ef?ovi? is going to talk about today [Monday – read a summary of what he said here]: the creation of an Energy Union which goes beyond the borders of the EU and includes all of these countries as well, creating an energy market within this Energy Union which is larger than the EU.

Can Bulgaria's inclusion into the European energy market solve problems in the country's energy system?

I wouldn't say everything is resolved if you create the Energy Union, but this a step in the right direction. Because that would increase interconnectivity between Bulgaria and the countries around, will provide an opportunity for Bulgaria to define its own energy mix, to define to what extent it is using gas, to what extent the energy is coming from lignite or renewables. We will find a way to increase renewables and therefore make it easier then to access other providers of different energy sources. I am trying to say very openly: not everything is resolved. And I do respect those who can provide energy resources and are part of this market.

The region is currently awaiting the realization of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). Bulgaria raised its initiative to build a Vertical Gas Corridor. The Eastring Pipeline, Turkish Stream, TANAP have all been tabled. Could you make a prediction as to what the regional gas infrastructure map will look like and how the area will be impacted by the fulfillment of some of these projects?

I don't want to play with this predicting what will happen. I’ll just say I highly appreciate the fact that Russia is a relevant producer and supplier of gas and oil. Besides, I am also aware that the gas might come from Azerbaijan, might come to Iran, might come through the Greek ports as LNG [liquefied natural gas];there are options. And a country – not only your country or my country but also the region – needs to increase interconnectivity in order to be more flexible and use different sources.

Some time ago transport and energy corridors were adjusted taking the "Silk Road" into account. For some time, ideas about "The New Silk Road" have been in the air. What influence does this concept have over projects and investment, how does in change the opportunities for regional cooperation in transport and energy? 

The New Silk Road is an idea I'd been working on while I was at the OSCE in heading actually economic and environmental activities and I'm very close to this. Central Asian countries are interested in improving their own connection with the rest of Europe. So what we are actually discussing is bringing goods from, let's say, the borders of China to Munich – and to all of us as a region. It takes weeks at this point for the track drivers to bring these goods and there are different reasons – partially it is politics, partially it is corruption. If not the roads, the other problems can be eliminated. Therefore there is need to increase the engagement along the road in order to make sure there is no corruption, there are no problems at border crossings, etc. This is relevant for us, because we are only part of the wider region– both Bulgaria and the countries. We need to be engaged and it goes beyond the EU borders and this cooperation with the Central Asia countries is of great relevance and this trade will only increase in the years to come.

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Tags: Goran Svilanovic, Maro? ?ef?ovi?, energy union, EU, Western Balkans, non-EU, Russia, energy, Regional Cooperation Council, RCC, South-East European Cooperation Process, SEECP, Daniel Mitov


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