The Adriatic and Ionian Initiative
In the attempt of coping with the implications of the Balkan crisis of the nineties, the European Union promoted the so-called "Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe" regarding all the south-eastern European countries, aspiring to join the Union in the future.
Within this treaty, on the occasion of the Finnish EU Summit of October 1999, held in Tampere, the "Adriatic-Ionian Initiative" was presented by the Italian Government, before being adopted.
The European Union strongly encouraged this initiative, made possible by the decisive and active support of another member state of EU, Greece.
The Adriatic and Ionian Initiative (AII) was established at the Summit on Development and Security on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, held in Ancona (Italy) on 19th/20th May 2000 and attended by the Heads of States and Governments of Italy, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece and Slovenia. At the end of the Conference, the Foreign Ministers of the participating Countries signed the "Ancona Declaration" in the presence of the President of the European Commission. As the Declaration states, strengthening regional cooperation helps to promote political and economic stability, thus creating a solid base for the process of European integration. From the very moment of its institution the goal of facilitating the enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkans was clear.
The Initiative was later extended to the federative union of Serbia and Montenegro, and after the referendum in Montenegro, both States preserved the status of AII Participating Countries.
Today, the AII counts eight Members: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Given the increased interdependence among States connected to the globalization processes and the need to provide common solution to common problems affecting the Adriatic region ask for concerted cooperation not only among regional Countries but also among regional initiatives. Cooperation has therefore gradually assumed different forms, including the establishment of partnerships involving Adriatic Ionian networks and Fora such as the Forum of the Adriatic Ionian Chambers of Commerce, the Adriatic Ionian Forum of Cities and Towns and UniAdrion (the Adriatic Ionian network of Universities).
The AII was originally founded with the aim of providing common and concerted solutions to shared problems, from fighting against organized criminality to the need to protect the natural environment of the Adriatic-Ionian Sea.
Many years after its establishment the geopolitical environment has deeply changed. Particularly among the AII Participating Countries, Slovenia in 2004 and Croatia in 2013 entered the EU while the other Adriatic-Ionian East side coastal Countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia), even if with different timeframes and conditions, are gradually approaching the EU within the Stabilization and Association Process framework, as a prelude to a future EU membership. Notwithstanding these changes, the reasons which had grounded the establishment of AII still persist, and they have even become stronger across time.
Following the recent EU approach to support multilateral sub-regional cooperation and the successful example of the adoption of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea, the AII has worked, since the beginning of 2010, on the idea of a Macro-Region for the Adriatic Ionian Region. Considering the common historical and cultural heritage, the use of the common sea, the need to protect the marine environment from pollution, the opportunity of sustainable development and growth and the common goal to make this basin an internal sea of the European Union when the integration process is concluded in the Western Balkan countries, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the 8 countries of the Adriatic Ionian Initiative approved, under Italian Chairmanship, a "Declaration on the Support of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic Ionian Basin" (5th May 2010, Ancona).
Since then the AII participating States, the coastal regional authorities, the thematic networks and the AII initiated a joint action aimed at raising awareness on the necessity of establishing a Macro-Region for the Adriatic Ionian basin. This initiative raised support from all Adriatic Ionian actors at all levels of government and society.
As a consequence of AII full commitment, the European Council gave mandate to the EU Commission to present a new "Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region" (EUSAIR) that was endorsed by the Council on the 24 October 2014 and is now in its implementation phase.
Following the approval by the European Council, it has been undertaken a reflection within the AII (CSO and Permanent Secretariat) on its role in the new macro-regional context. In fact, it would have been impossible and counterproductive to continue working with the same mechanisms of the past considering that the same countries participating in the AII are members of EUSAIR, that the two institutions had similar priorities and that there was a risk of duplication and the AII could lose some of its meaning.
The results and findings of such a reflection are that an alignment of the two institutions was necessary in order to make both more effective.
Two important innovations have been introduced:
- The overhaul of the AII Round Tables (12-05-2015), which has two objectives.
- To align the AII priorities with the EUSAIR ones, making the Round Tables a tool at disposal of the EUSAIR governance (in particular the Thematic Steering Groups) for the implementation of the Strategy.
- To support the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity by changing the type of participants: no longer representatives of ministries, but stakeholders (representatives of civil society, local authorities, universities, private, etc.), namely, those who, through macro-regional actions and projects, will have to implement the Strategy Action Plan.
- The merging of the EUSAIR and AII highest political level. Following the approval of EUSAIR Strategy, and given the existence of the Adriatic Ionian Council - decision making body of the AII, which gathers the foreign ministers of the eight member countries - it seemed logical to avoid duplication with the new-born EUSAIR political level, also represented by Foreign Ministers of the eight countries, as well as by the Ministers of EU policies and funds and the relevant European Commissioners for Regional policy and for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
In conjunction with the first EUSAIR Forum (12-5-2016), which brought in Dubrovnik more than 700 stakeholders and implementers of the Strategy, the first "Adriatic Ionian Council / EUSAIR Ministerial Meeting" took place, acting at the same time as the highest political level for both the AII and the EUSAIR.