Black Sea Young Reformers Fellowship
The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation (BST) supported the recently launched Black Sea Young Reformers Fellowship program, spearheaded by the Sofia based Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). This project is an effort to support reformist thinking and reformist activities across the region of the Black Sea through identifying and encouraging like-minded, reform-oriented, influential young policy-makers, civil servants and civil society activists at national level from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. This network hopes to become a force of change and to be in a position to influence policies and propel institutional and societal changes toward more accountability and transparency in the area. The ultimate goal is movement toward European-style democracy. Much will depend on a shared vision in the Black Sea region. The Black Sea Young Reformers Fellowship hopes to contribute to developing a positive vision that is shared across the Black Sea countries.
On April 15-18 in Varna, Bulgaria IRIS hosted the Fellowship’s inaugural seminar entitled, “Security, Development and Regional Cooperation in the Black Sea Area”. The conference was organised by the Institute for Regional and International Studies in Sofia in partnership with the Centre for Applied Policy Research at the University of Munich. The event brought together young prospective politicians, civil servants and analysts from the civil society sector of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. In a series of plenary sessions and workshops, the fellows discussed their views on institutional development, democratization, regional security and cooperation around the Black Sea. They discussed ways to overcome the existing problems and suggested how the European Union can assist those processes. The conference also set the foundation of an active network among young Black Sea leaders and between them and their EU counterparts who will eventually be in position to influence policy decisions both in the countries of the region and the EU. As Ognyan Minchev, director of the Institute for Regional and International Cooperation (IRIS) stressed in his opening remarks, the primary challenge for Black Sea countries is to develop closer ties across the region. This will require that the Black Sea countries act more pro-actively to raise EU interest and involvement in their regional and domestic affairs. An important gateway should be the processes of democratization that are ongoing in the region, which should peak EU attention and interest in "serious political investment", as one of the participants put it during the debate.
The fellows will convene again in Berlin, Germany later this fall. The workshop will focus on possible ways the EU can support reformist thinking and institutional democratisation in the Black Sea region. Discussions will draw heavily on the conclusions of the first conference and the inter-conference period – the suggestions, experiences and written work of each of the individual participants and his/her specific country background and the policy issues identified by the issue groups and the online presentations.