Fifteen Years of the SEE Cooperation Process

Georgi Pirinski, Vice-President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria
October 15, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Colleagues,


          I would like to offer comments on three aspects under the title of this timely and forward-oriented Conference – the essence of the SEECP Parliamentary Dimension, the Dimension’s evolution over the past decade and a half and, finally, its’ progress towards ever-greater institutionalization.


          1. The Parliamentary Dimension constitutes an integral part of the overall process of cooperation in South-Eastern Europe – the SEECP. This process, inaugurated by the July 1996 Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the region in Sofia, has as its basic document the Bucharest Charter of October 12th, 2000 on Good Neighborly Relations, Security, Stability and Cooperation in South-Eastern Europe,

          As its’ very title indicates, the fundamental starting point for the overall process of cooperation in the region is the cornerstone principle of Good Neighborly relations. The very first paragraphs of the Charter’s Preamble spell out the solemn commitment of the signatories to observe and promote the norms enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents and Council of Europe fundamental acts – all dedicated to ensuring durable and productive Good Neighborly relations as the indispensible basis for fruitful cooperation, security and stability.

          At the outset, in point 1, the Charter states that the primary objective of the SEECP is to strengthen Good Neighborly relations among all states of the region as the indispensible precondition for durable peace, security and stability. The text further goes on to spell out that the way to achieving this primary objective is through continuing and expanding cooperation and solidarity.

          Thus the very nature of the type of cooperation in South-Eastern Europe  launched in the mid 90ies of  last century was conceived as and has been developing as a process rather than through the establishment of a new regional organization. Point 16 of the Charter, clearly reflecting this nature of the  process, states that the SEECP precisely represents a comprehensive framework for regional cooperation. And it is exactly within this framework and context that we must seek to enhance and develop the Parliamentary Dimension of the SEECP.

          Pursuant to this essence of the cooperation process, the procedures and modalities agreed upon by the participating states both under the Bucharest Charter and in subsequent documents have spelled out the corresponding norms and mechanisms for its’ development. Thus point 12 of the Annex provides that decisions are taken by consensus, understood as absence of objection. This is the working modality for achieving inclusive and action-oriented agreement on priority issues of regional interest, shared by all participants. 


          2. Turning to the evolution of the SEECP PD, we may discern three consecutive stages. The first stage, covering the twelve years after the first meeting of the Speakers of Parliament in Athens back in 1996, can be described as following and supporting the activities at the intergovernmental level.  

          Then, in 2008 with the transfer of functions from the Stability Pact on to the SEECP modalities, the Parliamentary Dimension entered a new stage. In addition to its’ strictly interparliamentary cooperation function, it was given a new  “overarching” role, in a sense overseeing the five other areas of cooperation in the security, economic and social spheres that are the responsibility of governments. This new positioning of the PD was spelled out in the final document of the 7th Speakers’ Conference in Sofia.

          Now we have reached the stage when the SEECP PD is being faced with the expectation to undertake a more pro-active role regarding the overall regional cooperation process. In the period up to now the parliamentary meetings of speakers as a rule reached conclusions in the form of final declarations, covering  issues of general policy interest. Now the need is growing for identifying specific key issues for boosting regional economic and social development an for adopting concrete resolutions on such issues within the Parliamentary Dimension as a clear expression of political will at the parliamentary level, addressed to governments and NGO-s of the region, as well as to the European and other international partners, engaged in transforming the Balkans into a secure and prospering region of our continent.


          3. Which brings us to the third topic, that of  the modalities for the functioning of the SEECP PD. The first stage of cooperation, as was indicated, took the form of annual conferences of the Speakers of Parliament, with the first one taking place in Athens in 1996.

          Then in 2008 and the period after that the parliamentary form was expanded by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with a number of specific lines of  interaction defined. In particular it was agreed to set up and support the Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South-Eastern Europe as a new input both towards better information and coordination of cooperation between parliaments, as well as for  better synchronization with overall cooperation being supported by the Regional Cooperation Council in Sarajevo.

          Now we find ourselves in the process of discussion on the further development of the PD in line with the conclusions of the 8th Speakers’ Conference in Antalya, Turkey in 2012. Two possible options for institutionalizing the PD have been put forward – a more structured organization by the Turkish Parliament and a permanent Speaker’s conference by the Parliament of Bulgaria.

          It is our conviction that the permanent conference form is the one best suited to the new requirements for an active role of the SEECP PD in putting specific topics at the top of the agenda of regional cooperation and in uniting the participating parliaments around consensual positions on such topics as a clear expression of the will of Parliaments for undertaking the necessary action by the governments in the region and by international partners.

          The SEECP PD, since its first forum in Athens 15 years ago, has already established itself as a vital component of the overall process of regional cooperation in South-Eastern Europe. Today we are called upon to carry it an important step forward, a task we are all committed to crowning with final success.

          In endeavoring to complete this task we should not lose sight of the guiding objectives of the cooperation process itself – developing the region of the Balkans into an area of durable peace and cooperation and of achieving ever closer European integration of the countries of the region. Which again brings us back to the initial starting point of the principle of Good Neighborly relations as the indispensible basis and essence of any successful cooperation between countries.

          It should also be clear that it is far from enough to pay lip service to the importance of this principle. Clearly what matters are actions – both for building good neighborhood practices and, no less important, of refraining from negative acts adversely affecting country-to-country relations and running directly counter to firmly accepted  norms of behavior in Europe. In present day Europe good neighborliness includes much more than the traditional requirements to refrain from threats to borders and from acts entailing other direct security risks. Besides these it is all-important to discard any practices or tendencies to construct a negative image of one’s neighbors, to take proper care to refrain from negative comments regarding them.  

          When considering entry into the European Union it might be useful to refer to a kind of metaphor. Such an entry might be compared to passing security control when boarding an airplane today. In the case now under discussion the control frame should be regarded as having “Good Neighborly relations” inscribed on it as the defining requirement for successful passage. So that anyone wishing to enter must leave behind all negative baggage of one sort or another, in this case without the option of retrieving any such items on the other side of the door.


          Thank you.

Read stories from: