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EU Blue hand for Ukraine in the Black Sea

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Each sea basin has its own importance from different perspectives: economic, political, social, environmental and strategic. The Black Sea is not an exception. Even more: due to the very different coastal countries, Black sea has a difficult contradiction complex. Consequently, the Black Sea needs a regional or at least a sub-regional approach. In different sea basins EU is using various initiatives and approaches for gathering the actors and its actions. The aim of these initiatives are identify all aspects of cooperation and existing initiatives and to achieve maximum coherence between strategies of each country, thereby maximizing their effectiveness.

In 2019 EU gave a helping hand in the form of Common maritime agenda for the Black Sea (CMA) which can offer successful answers to some of the specific problems in this basin. The CMA cover all Black sea states: Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine. 

CMA includes the full range of issues related to Black Sea activities (infrastructure, transport, ecology, tourism, aquaculture, fisheries, digitalization, etc.), except political and security issues. Exception of the policy matters is one of the reasons of mechanism’ success. In addition, the European Commission has decided to separate the scientific component – SRIA.

SRIA should involve all stakeholders in the process of responding to all challenges in the Black Sea Basin through the scientific component.

During the first meeting of CMA contact persons, which took place on 1 October 2019 in Brussels, attended by representatives of DG MARE, member countries, EU member states etc. Also, in this meeting the Black Sea Assistance Mechanism was established with purpose of the implementation of CMA, provides guidance and support to governments, private investors, trade and industrial associations, research institutions and universities and to the general public regarding opportunities to engage in Blue Economy maritime activities in the Black Sea region.

It is obviously that the conflicts in Black Sea region transformed already into frozen and these conflicts are forming scenario for future cooperation or development. Also, it should be mentioned that in addition to the complex political situation in the Black sea there are high volumes of traffic, industrialization, urbanization, overfishing and as a result environmental degradation.

During the Ukrainian national webinar “Blueing the Black Sea” on 11 March the Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Ukraine mentioned that the Black sea is the most polluted EU basin. The World Bank’s representative Steven Schonberger mentioned that the severe pollution in the Black Sea has happened only over the last 20 years so this makes it reversible. The World Bank is delighted to see Ukraine emerging as an environmental leader in Europe. But it does require a regional solution and collaboration and cooperation across national boundaries is essential.  The Blue growth and blue energy should play a more important role in the forecasts and initiatives of the European Union for all sea basins within its scope, especially the Black Sea. That is why the main cornerstone of CMA is blue economy as an instrument for better future for Black Sea.

In this regards, the blue economy and marine renewable energy are necessary precondition for the establishment of certain projects in the area, as well as others related to them.

Ukraine joint this instrument in early 2019 but till the summer of 2020 Ukrainian steps were non-systematic. Only in the end of 2020 Ukraine defined the nationals’ coordinators (Ministry of foreign affairs of Ukraine and Ministry of education and science of Ukraine), formed national team and the Ukrainian national hub under Black Sea Assistance Mechanism started its activity.For the first step Ukrainian stakeholders need to raise awareness on the opportunities presented by the blue economy in the Black Sea region for the upcoming EU funding possibilities for Ukraine to support their engagement in the CMA implementation at national level and regional level. That is why the first Ukrainian national event Financial Instruments of Implementation Support of CMA and SRIA in Ukraine took place in online format on 3 March 2021.

The event objectives were:

  • to give a full picture of tools and assistance available in Ukraine for an effective implementation of the Common Maritime Agenda and its R&I Pillar (SRIA) for a healthy and sustainable blue economy.
  • to share issue and best practices on EU funding calls.
  • to provide practical guidance to the various stakeholders in the blue economy for Ukraine (Authorities, Universities, SMEs, CSOs, etc): what’s in it for them, which are the specific requirements to be eligible and what they have to gain from future financing streams.

Talking about the EU financial instruments within CMA instrument we can figure out eight:

  1. Neighbour development and international cooperation instrument (target on special priorities of cooperation during 2021-2027.
  2. Interreg next Black sea program 2021- 2027.
  3. Horizon Europe.
  4. Interregional innovation investment.
  5. LIFE Program.
  6. European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
  7. ERASMUS +.
  8. TAIEX (Technical Assistance Information Exchange).

Some of these programs are not new for Ukrainian stakeholders, but common window for Black sea related projects is in any case a big advantage.

Separately need to be described the Blueing the Black Sea (BBSEA) project. This is a regional initiative to tackle marine pollution and climate change to catalyze Blue Economy investments in the Black Sea region. The first stage aimed on defining priority investments in pollution prevention, reduction, and control in the Black Sea and the architecture and modalities of the BBSEA project. During the second stage implementation procedure will start. In September 2021 will be announced the calls of proposals according to the defined priorities.

Actually, the CMA provides a single source that summarizes possibilities for blue development for such sectors as marine industries, aquaculture; offshore wind energy; floating offshore wind energy; tidal and wave energy; marine biotechnology, seabed mining; tourism and recreation etc. The target of Blue Economy is to develop some new marine industries and new the political agenda. This EU instrument have been established with the aim to bring together industry, finance, academia and public authorities to identify solutions and make investment more attractive.

Also, under the Horizon 2020 program in this year starts the new project “DOORS: Developing an Optimal and Open Research Support system to unlock the potential for blue growth in the Black Sea’.

DOORS will bring the four pillars of the SRIA into reality, turning the challenges into opportunities for a highly valued Black Sea. It will harmonise research and provide the infrastructure to better understand the Black Sea, particular ecosystem characteristics, develop the framework to support Blue Growth and early development of start-ups, and provide evidence to inform policy and behavioural change. To reach its ambitious objectives, the project team will work closely with stakeholders from the start to develop an open research system and establish a framework to support continuous stakeholder dialogue. DOORS will implement three Work Programmes: a System of Systems to harmonise approaches and provide an accessible data repository, a Blue Growth Accelerator to support enterprise, and Knowledge Transfer and Training to share best practice and build capacity.

Finally, the implementation of CMA and SRIA as an integrative tool to improve maritime governance could be noted positively, stressing the relation between marine activity in Black sea and Blue Growth. Weaknesses CMA for Ukraine is in a lack of private risk funding for innovative maritime technologies, which is still hampering maritime innovation to get to the market in one hand and from another hand in lack of state support.

*Ukraine National Hub with the support of the Black Sea Assistance Mechanism Central Team

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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