Common Responsibility
The Black Sea
Common Responsibility
Common Ground
Action Plan

Ms Ritt Bjerregaard

This symposium on the Black Sea is an historical event in more than one sense. It was at Trabzon that the 10,000 Hellenic soldiers, led by Xenophon 400 years before Christ, saw the sea again after years of warfare and hardship and cried out the famous words which have resounded in the minds of people up through the centuries: 'Thalassa - thalassa!' - 'The Sea - the sea!'

Throughout history the sea has retained its power over the minds of men. It has divided peoples and cultures - and brought them together. People have crossed the sea in order to trade and to explore new worlds, but also to conquer and plunder. The sea has opened up the world to us. Cultural influences - from the most mundane products to the loftiest ideas - have come by boat from all corners of the world.

In our minds and imaginations the sea has retained its character of wilderness, of 'real' nature, untamed by man. This perception is misleading. Even if previous human efforts to 'rule the waves' have failed, we now know that there is a real risk that we might end up destroying the sea because of the pollution of rivers flowing into it and direct discharges of wastes into the sea.

Today, 24 centuries after Xenophon's soldiers first saw the Black Sea at Trabzon, we can see the whole of our planet Earth, photographed by satellites in space. The picture of this small blue planet, largely covered by water, suspended in infinite space, which we have all seen on television, presents us at a glance with the inescapable challenge facing us. We are confined to this small planet which we all share - and which we will also have to share with future generations.

It brings home to us the moral responsibility we have, to ensure that the social and economic development we seek for a still increasing number of people does not happen at the expense of the basic conditions for future life on this planet. This is what we mean by the necessity of ensuring sustainable development. This is the vision which came out of the World Commission in the Brundtland report on 'Our Common Future'. And this is the vision which was confirmed in the declarations adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

We have already come a long way since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in June 1972, which first drew political attention to what was happening to the environment. However, let us be quite clear: there is no reason for complacency. Seen in the light of what is needed in order to achieve sustainable development, we are only at the very beginning. Much more remains to be done. The burden on the environment is increasing: production and consumption in the developed countries still use more and more resources; human activities influence and change our climate; 40% of the world's population is facing water shortages; forests and biodiversity are disappearing at an alarming rate.

These facts are not only known by scientists and governments, but widely recognised by the general public in Europe. Public opinion polls continuously show that ordinary people all over Europe recognise that there is a need for strong action to protect the environment. They recognise the need for new types of determined action to achieve this in their own countries and they are ready to pay the price. They are also ready to assist developing countries in their struggle towards sustainability.

Today the European Union is in the lead in the international negotiations to tackle some of the major threats to our global environment, such as depletion of the ozone layer and reduction of greenhouse gases, which are gradually causing climate change. However, efforts to achieve solutions to global environmental problems cannot be limited to global treaties and conventions. We must start at home, setting our own house in order, and we must assist our neighbours in their efforts to do the same.

The European Union is built on the fundamental idea of ensuring peace, democracy and prosperity through the establishment of a common market as the driver for a process of continuous political and economic integration between countries which had previously been at war for centuries.

In 1992 the pursuit of sustainability was introduced in the Treaty of the European Union as one of its fundamental principles. At the Summit in Amsterdam in 1997, the European Heads of State confirmed this commitment and specified that sustainable development should be a guiding principle for all sectors of policy of the Union.

The European Union has grown from economic cooperation and integration between six countries to a fully-fledged political and monetary union comprising 15 European member states today. The next round of enlargement, with countries from Central and Eastern Europe, is already in preparation.

Ever since the great events that unfolded around these parts after 1989, Europe has been seeking to come closer to the peoples separated from us for so long by artificial barriers. Association Agreements, opening up a pre-accession process, have been signed with ten Central and Eastern European countries, including Romania and Bulgaria. In December 1997 the European Heads of State discussed the strategy for enlargement proposed by the European Commission.

But the European Union's interest in the development in the East does not stop at the borders of the prospective new Member States. The European Union has established Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A customs union with Turkey rounds off a series of important agreements that politically and economically bind the countries of the Black Sea area to the European Union countries.

We in the European Union are increasingly aware of the need to save the Black Sea. We also accept a common responsibility, knowing that some of the problems originate from our region via the Danube River. The Danube provides a direct link between the Union Member States and the Black Sea. This is why the Union is also a signatory to the Danube Convention, providing important assistance for the improvement of the Danube and ultimately of the Black Sea.

The setting up of frameworks of cooperation with the European Union has led to concrete forms of assistance provided in multiple forms through many Union programmes. This European assistance has extended into all areas of the economies of the countries concerned and has contributed considerably to the establishment of a number of institutions. In the Black Sea area European Union aid has helped establish, among other things, the Black Sea Environmental Programme which has led to the Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea and its secretariat in Istanbul.

In fact the countries of the region have made great progress in the institutional development of their cooperation in the area. The Black Sea Economic Cooperation and its institutions are firmly established and are ready to make their contribution to the economic development of the region.

When we turn to the future we see that many of the building blocks are in place for an accelerated development of the countries of the region through the appropriate use of their natural resources. Their privileged location in the confluence of two great continents allows them to play a key role in the further development of the transportation and energy networks that will be the backbone for their development.

The realisation that we are menaced today by great global and regional environmental degradation places on these countries a special obligation to develop all their resources in a sustainable manner.

I grew up on the shores of another landlocked sea, the Baltic. When I was a child the Baltic Sea was a military border between East and West. Today most of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea are - or are about to become - members of the European Union. Today it is a realistic description - and not just an expression of Cold War propaganda - to call the Baltic a 'Sea of Peace'. Even so, the Baltic is also a sea in crisis. Like the Black Sea, it is threatened by pollution and eutrophication.

The Black Sea is about to become a sea on the borders of Member States of the European Union. It is still a sea in crisis in more ways than one. We all have a responsibility to work for a future in which the Black Sea will regain its equilibrium and become a sea bringing people and cultures together, not dividing them.

A satellite picture gives us the right perspective on our world: we cannot see the national or military borders, which have cost so much blood and suffering. We can see that we live in one environment, the planet Earth. And like Xenophon's soldiers we can see the Sea!