Bulgaria tooken over the chairmanship-in-office of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) for the period May 2007 – May 2008.
A decision of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe Special Coordinator designated Sofia host of the Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South-Eastern Europe, in competition with the applications of Belgrade and Skopje.
Some of the arguments for the selection were the high quality of the Bulgarian application and the ability of Bulgaria to provide the most efficient link between the regional dimension of cooperation and the European perspective. Regional cooperation in South-Eastern Europe is a modern day follow up to the development processes in relations among the Balkan countries. Since the outset Bulgaria has been an active participant in the regional cooperation structures.
In July 1996, a meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of South-East European countries in Sofia adopted the Sofia Declaration for Good-Neighbourly Relations, Stability, Security and Cooperation in the Balkans, which set the beginning to the South-East European Cooperation Process. Subsequently, the Process was recognized by the international community for its authentic voice in the region and grew into a forum for political and diplomatic dialogue, which involves all SEE countries.
Cooperation within the framework of the SEECP takes place in the following formats: annual meetings of the heads of state/government of SEE countries; annual meetings of the Foreign Ministers; sectoral meetings of ministers to discuss issues within their competency; meetings of the Committee of Political Directors from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
An important aspect of the SEECP is the annual meeting of the Speakers of Parliament.
Bulgaria has been an active participant in the Stability Pact for SEE ever since its establishment. The Pact was created on the initiative of the European Union, which implemented it as a large-scale project, intended to bring “lasting peace, prosperity and stability to South-Eastern Europe”.
The Pact covers over forty partner states and organizations. For the first time, the Sofia Stability Pact for SEE Regional Table of May 2005 officially launched the principle of “regional ownership”. According to it, countries in the region need to take greater responsibility for the regional cooperation initiatives. In line with the application of the regional ownership principle, the Belgrade Stability Pact Regional Table of May 2006 took the decision to transform regional cooperation in SEE.
Part of this transformation process is the termination of the Stability Pact’s activity, which is considered to have successfully played its role in stabilizing the region, and the creation of a new structure, the Regional Cooperation Council.
The conclusions of the Regional Tables in Belgrade and Bucharest (November 2006) outlined the main parameters of the future architecture of regional cooperation in SEE, namely: the setting up of a Regional Cooperation Council, the leading political role of the SEECP in regional cooperation, the definition of priority areas for regional cooperation: economic and social development, justice and home affairs, security cooperation, building human capital. It was also decided that parliamentary cooperation should serve as an “overarching theme” to support activities in the above areas.
In that connection the Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South-Eastern Europe was founded.
Taking into account its role for the region as an EU member-state, Bulgaria submitted its application for Sofia to become the seat of the Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation.
The application stated the following main advantages of Sofia:
- The country’s important role for the further development of European integration and the Euro-Atlantic processes, as well as for the process of accepting the acquis communautaire in the region;
- Geographically, Sofia is situated in the centre of South-Eastern Europe; Bulgaria is a recognized example of a successful ethnic relations model put to practice;
- Sofia could develop the EU - Black Sea parliamentary dimension;
- Back in 1996, Bulgaria was one of the initiators of the regional cooperation forms and was an active factor for their steady development;
- The National Assembly has considerable experience in international and interparliamentary activity. The Bulgarian Parliament has great expertise, both in terms of MPs, and in terms of staff, especially in the key area of European integration. There is very good infrastructure for the organization of meetings both in Sofia and in the rest of the country (including on the Black Sea coast);
- Good information, technical and language skills of the National Assembly deputies and staff.
The National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria greatly appreciates the trust it was given and recognizes the great responsibility that arises out the fact that the country will host one of the leading regional formats. The Bulgarian Parliament declares its complete readiness to be a responsible and helpful host to the Secretariat.
The fact that Bulgaria has become the seat of the Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South Eastern Europe and the country’s chairmanship-in-office of the South-East European Cooperation Process (May 2007-May 2008) increased the role of Bulgaria as a leading and stabilizing partner in the South-East European regional cooperation.