- In focus

RCC ANNUAL MEETING – MIRROR IMAGE: MUCH REMAINS TO BE DONE, by Hido Biscevic, Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council

Reflecting on the recent Summit of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) and the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Annual Meeting, one can quickly come to a simple conclusion: it was a moment of truth for the region, providing a mirror image of a true state of affairs among the member states. At both meetings and, certainly, during the preparatory proceedings at different levels, under the Serbia's SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office (C-i-O), the opportunity was there to observe where the region stands at this point in time, what are the most important problems and challenges, what cumbersome hurdles still need to be addressed and resolved and, last but not least, what still lays ahead in order to deal with the alarming effects of the economic and social crisis.

Indeed, a moment of truth for the region.

First, meetings proved the continuity of a mixture of positive developments, in terms of advancement towards the EU and Euro-Atlantic integration, and a number of residual setbacks, in terms of unresolved issues and open differences bearing potentials for tensions and instability. But, more than before, the meetings indicated that such a mixture of “pluses and minuses” should not continue as it would produce a strategic impasse, imbalance and divisions within the region, with broader strategic consequences. The need for a greater leap forward transpired, even amidst the opposing positions hampering that same leap forward. 

Second, the meetings proved that evident political differences and opposing positions regarding several sensitive issues, should no compromise and pragmatic solutions are soon found and agreed upon by the parties, may have a stalemating impact on regional cooperation, whereby a genuine regional cooperation may be substituted by a mere lip service and ineffective routine. A strategic interest to find durable solutions for all-inclusiveness became more then evident.

Thirdly, the meetings and discussions also proved the need to involve the region in an in-depth analysis and honest debate about how to proceed with the regional cooperation in such circumstances. The fact that final declaration was not adopted, along with many other perpetuating issues, strongly suggested that a time has come to reflect comprehensively about the future of cooperation within the SEECP framework. As the SEECP C-i-O framework was transferred from Belgrade to Skopje, one should expect that the reform of the current cooperation architecture in our region will be highly on the agenda in the coming months, including through possible establishment of a Wise Men Group or coordination at the level of the SEECP Political Directors with a strong involvement of the EU institutions. This process, as indicated also during the debates in Belgrade, will have to find a measured form of consolidation without institutionalization. It will have to be focused on elaborating ideas how to enhance political dialogue within the region, regional responsibility in dealing with open issues, the overall profile of the region and its international presence, etc. In addition, given the changing realities in the region over the last years – EU advancement, maturity, common interests, etc. – it may also call for developing a new statutory settings for the RCC, perhaps even the adaptation of the current structure of the Secretariat in order to further align the RCC work with the EU enlargement strategy when preparing the working platform for the period beyond 2013.

As for the SEECP, the ways and forms will have to be found to consolidate attained level of  cooperation, precisely because of political realities in the region – anything else would lead to ineffective and declaratory pattern of cooperation, the more so as some countries from the region are to become EU members or will be approaching the membership whilst others may still be preoccupied with their internal or bilateral problems and kept away from EU membership for a protracted period of time: the interest for and approach to regional cooperation may very much differ in such a scenario. 

Fourth, the meetings proved the growing awareness of the alarming impact of the current economic crisis on the overall social and political situation in the region. More than on many previous occasions, the region recognized the need to jointly elaborate recovery and development projects in several priority areas. Among other points, the commitment to proceed with initiative to reconstruct and modernize South East European railway system within the EU “Connecting Europe Facility” programme should provide a solid basis for a concrete administrative and expert follow-up, on a national level and with the EU and international partners. In addition, it also indicated one possible way of reforming the pattern of work within the SEECP, e.g. focusing Summit meetings on a specific highly important and commonly shared interests of the region.

Last but not least, meetings proved the importance and value of the Regional Cooperation Council. Whilst on the political level current realities often make it difficult to keep the regional cooperation fully in speed, reminding us that the fuel for the engine of cooperation in South East Europe still comes more from Brussels then from a regionally embraced genuine will, the RCC in turn additionally proved the added value of the persistent work and its ”brick by brick“ approach in re-building the scattered and fragmented potentials of the region. Personally, I take the adoption of my Annual Report, with a detailed scoreboard of concrete deliverables and results from the implementation of the Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013, as a confirmation and appreciation of the work done by the entire RCC Secretariat.

In the period ahead, the continuity of this work will have to be ensured, in particular in view of the forthcoming change at the helm of RCC, with Mr. Goran Svilanovic, the new Secretary General, taking over the management in only a few months.

Hido Biščević took office as the first Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council on 1 January 2008. A Croatian diplomat, Mr Biščević previously served as the State Secretary for Political Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Croatia (2003-2007), Ambassador to the Russian Federation (1997-2002), Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs (1995-1997), Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, accredited to the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Uzbekistan (1993-1995), Ambassador and Adviser to the Foreign Minister (1992), and Head of Department for Asian and Arab Countries (1992). Before joining the diplomatic service, Mr Biščević was the Editor-in-Chief of the Vjesnik daily (1990-1992) and Foreign Affairs Editor at the same newspaper (1985-1989). Detailed biography of Hido Biscevic is available at the RCC website.


Hido Biscevic, Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council (Photo: RCC/Dado Ruvic)

Hido Biscevic, Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council (Photo: RCC/Dado Ruvic)