Newsletter 27/2013 - Our South East Europe

INTERVIEW with Titus Corlăţean, Foreign Affairs Minister, Romania

It is important to move forward, overcome differences

Mr Minister, your country has recently assumed the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Chairmanship-in-Office (C-i-O) for the coming year. How would you assess the initiatives of your predecessor and what are plans/priorities of Romania for the coming year?

We have formally assumed the SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office on the occasion of the ministers of foreign affairs’ meeting in Ohrid, on 31 May. I would like to warmly commend the former Chairmanship–in-Office for all the work during their mandate, especially the efforts deployed for the adoption of the two SEECP Declarations in Ohrid.

We are certain that the excellent cooperation we have had, as members of the Troika, will continue during our Chairmanship. We regret the cancellation of the Ohrid SEECP Summit, but now we consider important to move forward, to further the initiatives and projects, to find appropriate ways to overcome differences, based on respecting the provisions of SEECP’s documents.

Regarding our Chairmanship-in-Office, we believe that we can do more with the existing resources and we will do our best to prove that. Our position will focus on those areas where tangible progress is achievable, particularly by emphasising and strengthening the horizontal dimension.

Our main priorities are to launch projects and consolidate cooperation in the Justice and Home Affairs area – with a focus on combating corruption and organised crime, and to increase confidence-building and dialogue among Participating States with a focus on the economic component (tourism, employment and competitiveness), on energy security, and on statistics issues.

In the meantime, we intend to start a reflection process on improving SEECP efficiency. We do not think that we need new formats, as they would inevitably lead to overlaps and waste of resources. What we do need is to adapt and make the best use of what we already have and what proved to be useful along the years.

How would you asses the current state of regional cooperation in South East Europe in light of its European Union (EU) perspective?

Regional cooperation has proved to be an effective instrument for the countries of the region in advancing their European and Euro-Atlantic integration process.

In the last twenty years, we have witnessed the establishment of an entire range of regional cooperation structures across Central, South and Eastern Europe, such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Central European Initiative, the South East European Cooperation Process, the Regional Cooperation Council, the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. In all of these formats, Romania’s active participation has been widely acknowledged.

Being the political voice of the region, as the only regional cooperation structure established exclusively among the countries in South-Eastern Europe, SEECP has developed and implemented the key concepts of regional ownership and regional leadership.

Romania will use the opportunity of taking over the Chairmanship-in-Office of the South East European Cooperation Process to further advance the process of regional cooperation, by implementing the principles of good neighbourly relations, stability, security and cooperation, as prerequisites of European integration.

The Romanian Chairmanship-in-Office will pay special attention to consolidating the twin pillars of regional ownership and leadership, bearing in mind their importance in creating the conditions for deeper cohesion and the development of this region. Also, enhanced coordination among the different regional cooperation structures should be an added value in fulfilling the critical objectives that we share. Moreover, an increased visibility of SEECP activities should ensure a clearer perception and better awareness of this regional body at the European and international level.   

The EU enlargement policy continues to contribute to peace, security and prosperity in Europe. In the context of regional cooperation, what would you single out as key aspects for the EU aspiring countries from the region, taking into account the lessons that Romania learnt through the EU integration process?

Enlargement remains one of the most successful EU policies, as the key to extending the area of peace, democracy, stability and prosperity on our continent.

On 1 July 2013, Croatia joined the EU. This is an encouraging signal to other aspiring candidates, indicating that enlargement policy is indeed progressing, at a time when the Union is working intensely to deepen its internal integration to a new stage.

Enlargement brings benefits both to the EU Member States and to the acceding countries, stimulating economic competitiveness, expanding the Internal Market and bridging us together. We need to continue this process, based on the own merits principle and the fulfilment of all accession criteria. At the same time, the different benchmarks set during accession negotiations should not be viewed as stumbling blocks to joining the EU. On the contrary, their role is to provide substantial guidance to every candidate country, so as to clearly set the tasks that need to be fulfilled for advancing to a new stage.

In this regard, in our bilateral contacts with candidate countries, we consistently plead for and encourage the full use of the technical and financial instruments provided by the EU (e.g. Technical Assistance and Information Exchange/TAIEX, twinning), whose main objective is to make the Union’s neighbouring beneficiaries acquainted with the European legislative framework. Romania has been and remains ready to share its own experience with the candidate countries on their accession path.

How do you see relationship between the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and SEECP in terms of strengthening good neighbourly relations and achieving economic growth in South East Europe?

In the five years since its inception, the RCC has undergone significant changes to properly adapt to the evolving challenges facing our region. This year, for example, we have modified the RCC statute and have endorsed the new Strategy and Work Programme for the next three years, based on the objectives of a more comprehensive Strategy for the development of the region - SEE 2020. The SEE 2020 strategy places regional cooperation within a clear, more coherent framework, linking national priorities with regional platforms and identifying the most important gaps to be addressed over the long term. The quantitative strategic targets adopted by the region’s economies in the areas of growth, trade, investment, education, employment and governance are being translated into policy objectives, with plans for action developed at both national and regional levels.

The challenge of transforming the region into an area of economic and social prosperity, based on a solid democracy and fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria remains a critical objective of regional cooperation in South-East Europe.

Coordinating the activities of SEECP with those of RCC also remains essential: SEECP holds a political role and RCC is its operational arm. Under its operational dimension, RCC’s mandate is to identify opportunities for cooperation between states in the region and to promote concrete projects to their benefit. We should thus underline the need to build a stronger partnership between RCC-SEECP-EU, to adequately respond to the region’s real priorities. RCC offers an important underpinning of SEECP’s political role as the voice of the region, which is why its executive instruments and pragmatic structure are so valuable and need to carry on with increased effectiveness. In particular, attracting funds will be of paramount importance and we should use all the opportunities European Commission offers through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) II programmes.

Implementing the projects and actions foreseen by the Triennial RCC Strategy in order to achieve the agreed targets will remain the main challenge for all the actors, especially for the RCC. It is of utmost importance in terms of the RCC’s credibility for us to be able to prove that this new strategy and its guidelines for concrete action will bring a positive impact on the life of the citizens throughout region. To this aim, Romania is ready to work closely with the RCC Secretariat and the European Commission, to prove that a solid coordination between SEECP-RCC-EU can transform words and documents into concrete facts. 

Titus Corlăţean is the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1994. Corlatean was Co-agent of the Romanian Government before the European Court of Human Rights (1997-2001), State Secretary - Department for Romanians Abroad (2003-2004), Member of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies (2004-2007), Member of the European Parliament and First Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament (2007-2008), Senator, Chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee in the Romanian Senate (2008-2012) and Minister of Justice (2012). He holds a PhD in Public International Law.


Titus Corlăţean, Foreign Affairs Minister, Romania (Photo: courtesy of Mr Corlăţean)

Titus Corlăţean, Foreign Affairs Minister, Romania (Photo: courtesy of Mr Corlăţean)