Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be at this seminar, which is of particular importance for the Congress and for me personally as President of its Committee on Sustainable Development, which is directly concerned with the issues of development of our communities and territories.
In the Congress, we are convinced that the times when governments could regulate territorial development alone are gone. Today this work has shifted in a large proportion to local and regional communities. The need for greater territorial cohesion, for bridging the urban-rural divide and development gaps between communities is one of the main challenges that our communities are facing today,
We believe that it is transfrontier cooperation between communities themselves that offers an excellent opportunity for both boosting territorial development and achieving greater territorial cohesion. Transfrontier cooperation strengthens regional and local economy, facilitates interaction and dialogue between communities, and helps to reduce regional disparities.
The Madrid Convention on Transfrontier Cooperation and its additional protocols, adopted by the Council of Europe, set a sound legal basis for such cooperation. We in the Congress also have a substantial practical experience in this regard, having created a new model for cross-border cooperation, which we call Euroregions of a new type – the Adriatic Euroregion, set up in 2006, and the Black Sea Euroregion, established at the end of 2008. As you can tell, the Adriatic Euroregion concerns the Balkans directly, while Albania, Serbia and Greece are also entitled to join the Black Sea Euroregion by its Statute.
Local and regional governments from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia are already participating in the Adriatic Euroregion along with their counterparts from Italy, and we are confident that more Balkan regions and municipalities will be joining this cooperation platform. We also hope that it will soon evolve into the Adriatic-Ionian Euroregion, with the participation of Greek communities, of which the island of Corfu is already a participating member.
The Adriatic and Black Sea Euroregions are cooperation models of a new type not only because they bring together and promote cross-border cooperation between communities from both EU and non-EU member countries. Their innovative character lies also in the fact that they provide for cooperation that is structured and multilateral, involving national, regional and local authorities; for cooperation between cities and regions which do not necessarily share common borders; and for cooperation that is not exclusively territorial but also maritime.
The idea of the Congress was to reinforce local and regional partnerships in the social, economic, cultural and environmental fields and areas of common interest and concern. Cities and regions around these European seas share common problems of coastal management, environmental protection, migration, promotion of tourism, transport development and use of energy sources.
The Euroregions seek to improve an exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practice, including good governance practices, between local and regional authorities; to develop their competences and management skills; and to engage them in specific cooperation and investment projects, using also European and international financial instruments and mechanisms for their implementation.
I am proud to say that the results are meeting indeed our expectations. The list of new projects which are being implemented, for example, in the framework of the Black Sea Euroregion is truly impressive – the Black Sea Cruise, the Ports’ network, or the “Tradition preserving” intercultural initiative. The “Black Sea Cruise” project, for instance, is geared towards developing tourism and socio-cultural infrastructures in the Black Sea Basin. This involves building marinas on the Black Sea and on the Danube, developing tourism and ferry services between Romania and Bulgaria, which could be extended to Odessa and Istanbul, as well as a number of cultural projects.
And this is just the beginning. We strongly believe that cross-border cooperation is increasingly supplementing inter-state relations, and is manifesting itself in many forms today – from Euroregions and metropolitan regions to municipal networks and finally Eurodistricts, another new form of decentralized and cross-border cooperation. During the Congress’ session last March, for example, we heard a presentation of the South Adriatic Eurodistrict which operates on the basis of an agreement between 17 municipalities from Montenegro, Albania and Italy.
We must take on board these models of decentralized cooperation and use them as tools for the development of territories. They represent something that works and something that yields impressive results. Most importantly, they represent the expression of the will and ingenuity of our communities and their authorities.