Development of the South East European Cooperation Process
The SEE Cooperation Process can be provisionally divided into three stages, or levels, which are based on the focus, intensity and quality of regional cooperation.
1st stage – Launching and institutional strengthening of the SEECP (1996-2000)
This stage begins with the launch of the SEE Cooperation Process at the Foreign Ministers' meeting in Sofia in 1996 with the adoption of the Declaration on Good-Neighbourly Relations, Stability, Security and Cooperation in the Balkans (7th July, 1996).
The Sofia meeting was attended by the Contact Group Five (USA, UK, Russian Federation, France and Germany), representatives of international organisations such as UN, European Union, OSCE as well as regional partners - the Central European Initiative, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation etc. The solid international presence at this first meeting was indicative of the willingness of the international community to support the launching of such a regional initiative.
Four priorities for the future development of the region were outlined in the Sofia Declaration:
1. Regional security: enhancing good-neighbourliness and mutual trust
2. Economic growth : developing economic cooperation by encouraging cross-border cooperation, improving the transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructure and the general investment climate;
3. Social and cultural development: promotion of humanitarian cooperation by improving social and cultural communication between countries;
4. Legal affairs and fight against crime: cooperation in the field of justice, combating organized crime and illegal trade in weapons and drugs, and fighting terrorism.
The next important step was taken the following year when on 3-4 November 1997 the Heads of State or Government of Southeast European countries met in Crete. This summit represents a firm starting point in the evolutionary process of co-operation in the region. Being the first of its kind in the history of Southeast European co-operation, the Summit has identified the main actors of this process. The leaders of the participating countries agreed that they should work together to create in their region conditions for the prosperity of their nations in a framework of peace, security, good neighbourliness and stability. For the first time the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions and organizations were clearly identified as target for SEE countries.
With this strong commitment, the Crete summit further outlined the content of the regional co-operation in Southeast Europe.
The first period of regional cooperation was marked by common efforts for establishment of institutional network and procedural framework and was dominated by issues of peace, security and stability in the region and they were the main priority of political dialogue at all levels.
All these endeavours led to the elaboration of a strategic political document which had became the principle platform for the further development of the SEECP – the Charter on Good Neighbourly Relations, Stability, and Security adopted in Bucharest at the meeting of South East European Heads of State and Ministers on 12th February 2000.
The Charter more clearly outlined the goals of cooperation and the tools for achieving it:
1. Enhancement of political and security cooperation;
2. Fostering economic cooperation;
3. Enlargement of cooperation in the fields of human dimension, democracy, justice and combating illegal activities.
Each of these goals was also accompanied by specific instruments which gave their implementation a more tangible nature. In the field of political cooperation, regular meetings were planned at two levels: the executive and legislative branches of power. Emphasis was also given to the non-governmental sector which was to be more actively involved at these two levels. For the first time so much attention was given to joint action mechanisms and programmes. Specific steps and actions were planned, especially in the field of security and economy, to be implemented both at the regional and national level for the purpose of strengthening regional cooperation. The legal base and principles of regional cooperation were clearly defined. The follow-up mechanisms in the SEE Cooperation Process were also described in the Annex.
2nd stage – Regional cooperation and the Stability Pact (2000-2008)
The Stability Pact was officially adopted on 10 June 1999 at Cologne on recommendation of the European Union. The overall aim of the Stability Pact was to promote the democratization and economic cooperation of the region through active involvement of the EU and other international factors - the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, UN (including the High Commissioner for Refugees), NATO, the United States, the Russian Federation, international financial institutions, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The highest level in the entire framework - meetings of Heads of State and Prime Ministers was entrusted with establishing the perspectives for development of the process and was entitled to be the highest forum for recommendations and discussions. During this period 11 su¿s of the region.
The next level - meetings of Foreign Ministers was entrusted to manage the implementation of common objectives. These meetings became regular not only in official, but also in informal formats.
The main operative authority is the Committee of Political Directors consisting of the political directors of Foreign Ministers of participating countries. The Committee of Political Directors is to gather every three months to coordinate the work and monitor progress.
Different sectoral ministers meetings also took place in the field of economy, trade, telecommunications, energy, interior affairs, culture.
In order to ensure continuity, a Troika was set up at the ministerial level, political directors and other high official levels. The Troika, formed by the representatives of the current, past and future SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office, performs fact-finding and observation missions.
The Stability Pact placed emphasis on the support to regional activities and regional cooperation initiated by the SEE countries. It worked together with the SEECP to ensure the common operation of these initiatives and the international donors’ community. A number of regional networks were established to coordinate different formats, forums, regional organizations and programmes involved in SEE cooperation. Cooperation spread over all areas of public and economic life.
3rd stage – Establishment of the RCC and RSPC SEE (2008 – present)
After a 7 year period leading up to 2008 the Stability Pact had exercised its intended role. The situation in the region entered in a new phase with the SEE countries' EU membership either achieved or having very real perspectives. Following the decision on a gradual evolution of the SP into a more regionally owned, streamlined and effective regional cooperation framework, the activities of the Stability Pact were handed over the Regional Cooperation Council, while Parliamentary Cooperation remained an overarching theme of the new RCC. In order to reach a more effective, coordinated and much more institutionalised sustainable cooperation between the parliaments of the region, a Regional Secretariat/Focal Point was decided to be established.
The RCC constituent meeting was also the last meeting of the Stability Pact Regional Table, held on 27th February 2008 in Sofia.
The RCC took over the implementation of multilateral decisions aiming to stabilise and integrate the region into European structures. The focus of attention was on economic and social development, infrastructure, justice and home affairs, efficient cooperation in the field of security, parliamentarÆeration and human capital.
The start-up concept of the functions and structure of the RSPC SEE was drafted by the Stability Pact and further developed with the participation of all SEECP parliaments.
The SEECP Speakers of Parliament expressed full support for the future activities of the Secretariat in the Final Declaration of their Sixth Conference in Zagreb in April 2007 and Sofia was assigned to host the Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in SEE. Likewise, the SEECP Heads of State and Government in their Zagreb Declaration in May 2007 stressed the importance of parliamentary cooperation as an indispensable segment of regional cooperation and welcomed the establishment of the Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Co¾overarching role of parliamentary cooperation.
A new stage for parliamentary cooperation in SEE was launched by the establishment of SEECP Parliamentary Assembly in 2014.
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