Regional cooperation represents a multi-layered and complex set of relations between numerous states, bearing in mind that no single understanding of the concept “region” exists. Depending on the definition and the initiative, a region may encompass a different number of states.
On the one hand, there is a region of South East Europe which includes all the states – successors of former Yugoslavia, but also Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Moldova. The cooperation of this geographic region began in the late 80s of the last century with the “conference of ministers of foreign affairs of the Balkans“. In 1996, this initiative grew into the South-East European Cooperation Process – SEECP. Above all, this process is a political platform for strategic talks at the level of heads of states or governments, ministerial level or at the level of state secretaries.
Then, there is a region of West Balkans including the Republic of Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia. The perspective of accession to the European Union opened up for these states back in 1999, meaning they may become full-fledged members of the European Union once they fulfil the existing criteria and complete the negotiations process.
The membership criteria are three Copenhagen criteria (political criterion, economic criterion and transposing of the Community Acquis into national legislation), as well as two additional criteria for the West Balkans countries (for which, due to their specific context, a Stabilisation and Association Process was developed) – cooperation with International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in Den Haag and regional cooperation.
The aim of regional cooperation in this context is, first and foremost, stabilisation of the post-conflict territory. With respect to that, at the initiative of the European Union made in 1999, 40 states and international organisations founded the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, in order to lay down the foundations of regional cooperation in this part of Europe.
In 2008, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe became a Regional Cooperation Council – RCC, as part of the overarching initiative of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). One of the key tasks of the Regional Cooperation Council is to monitor the South East Europe 2020 Strategy (SEE 2020), which complements the socio-economic development strategy of the European Union – “Europe 2020“ taking into account regional characteristics. SEE 2020 should be perceived as regional mechanism for enhanced coordination of efforts aimed at economic recovery and growth of the states involved.
In addition to the above main recognised forms of regional cooperation, there are numerous bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral initiatives on specific topics. The states in the region are also involved in two macro-regional EU initiatives: the Danube Strategy and the Adriatic-Ionian Strategy.
Various forms, levels, thematic focuses, geographic areas and a number of initiatives and organisations indicate the dynamics and significance of inter-state links, exchanges and cooperation. By way of illustration, there are currently more than 50 regional initiatives and cooperation platforms.
Regional cooperation surpassed its initial objective of stabilisation of the post-conflict territory and has grown into a constructive cooperation at different levels and in numerous areas through work on joint objectives, not least EU integration.