The EU strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region is the third macro-regional strategy developed by the European commission, based on an initiative of the European council, following the positive experience of previous strategies for the Baltic Sea region and the Danube region.
Moreover, equal inclusion of non-member states in EU projects and strategies proves to be an important aspect of speeding up the integration of the western Balkans into the European family.
The objective of the strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region rests on four pillars (blue growth, connecting the region, environmental quality and sustainable tourism) and is clear: promoting sustainable economic growth and job creation in the region by improving its attractiveness, competitiveness and connectivity, while preserving the environment and marine ecosystems.
This, of course, is in the interest of every state. But the strategy provides the shorter and faster of the paths to reaching this - mainly through joint approach, cooperation and connectivity of the states in the region in preparing and implementing projects and measures.
With large-scale infrastructural, economic and environmental projects, states can no longer think individually only within their borders, but must do so as a region, be it projects related to transport infrastructure, energy, protection of terrestrial, marine or costal environment, or improving the comprehensive tourism products and services. Only this way will they all be able to benefit.
As with previous strategies, no additional funding mechanism is envisaged, so states cannot expect extraordinary means for funding public investment. The strategy is to be implemented through more efficient use of existing means and human resources, tied strongly to more active phasing of funding from EU programmes and funds, particularly the ones open to non-member states in the process of European integration, like the connecting Europe facility and the LIFE programme. An active role for the European investment bank is also ensured.
If we wish the strategy to move from paper to practice, we need to set very concrete objectives and constantly monitor progress. Key challenges will include incorporating civil society, which must not be excluded from the negotiation process, and ensuring strong political support in practice. State authorities may endorse the strategy today, but when work and joint projects start, political decisions, agreements and compromises will also need to be taken.
Apart from reaching an agreement on innovative and sustainable economic use of the Adriatic sea, a key challenge for the strategy will be the future of energy supply for the region. With the scrapping of the South Stream project, the cards have been reshuffled.
The EU requires member states to diversify their energy sources and reduce energy dependence. The countries of the region will need to reach an agreement on the locations of new energy projects in the northern Adriatic and how to ensure uninterrupted supply of gas to this part of Europe.
Furthermore, the next 10 years will bring increased need for new and more modern electricity production capabilities, which the states will only be able to ensure in agreement and with joint investment.
The next aspect I personally miss in the strategy and hope will be added are more inter-state incentives for SMEs, which will be the crucial actor in the future development. Simplifying the system of state support for R&D and a common approach of the states to the setting of research, development and innovation policies should be a necessary part of the strategy. The same goes for programmes for easier access of small innovative enterprises to funding.
Although the strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region does not bring new funding to the region, its implementation will surely be an important factor for a better and more efficient use of the EU funding already available. By strengthening inter-state cooperation and joint investment, the countries of the region can expect mutual benefits which will also have positive effects on the living standard of the people - which is our common goal.