Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Tales from the Regions

The Assembly of European Regions has produced a special anniversary issue for their Newsletter May 2015 with an article by Dr Melanie Sully on good governance work in the region over the last decade.

Interregional Cooperation in Europe – the Black Sea Region

Dr Melanie Sully, Director of the Institute for Go-Governance, Vienna

At the geo-political hub between Europe and Asia, the Black Sea Region has a crucial importance for organisations such as the Assembly of European Regions (AER), the EU and for peoples living and working there. Recently the Region has not only become a marker between Europe and Asia but also a new divide between East and West. Some fear a renaissance of cold war days and with this ominous threat the concept of interregional cooperation has a special significance. The AER stresses the need to strengthen contact with citizens, enhance multi-level governance and build trust and dialogue across borders. One tool is the Cross Border Cooperation programme to reinforce ties between the EU and countries along its borders.[1] The AER is committed to sub-national governance and “territorial diplomacy” to improve the life of peoples in the Black Sea Region.[2]

Previous Work

Around ten years ago the City of Vienna supported initial projects of Dr Melanie Sully then professor at the Diplomatic Academy to research historical and cultural ties between Austria, EUrope and the Black Sea region. The project started in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, a former popular resort of the Soviet Union with a multi-cultural and multi-national history. Here European architects had worked, the French influence was strong and the city possessed its own distinct humour, dialect and flair. From this research stemmed publications, round table discussions, seminars and lectures at the universities in the town and region.

With the help again of the City of Vienna[3] and the Francophonie of the Diplomatic Academy an exhibition was held in the city highlighting the work of Eugenie Goldstern, born in Odessa of Jewish family who had fled to Vienna and later tragically was deported to concentration camp and death. It was clear from common history and fate that there were close links between EU countries and the Black Sea region. From this understanding comes a recognition of how intertwined our destinies are for the present and future.

Within the projects several studies were made of the Crimea a microcosm of war and peace with inseparable ties to the rest of Europe. Once a haven for Summer tourism in the Soviet days and privileged children of the party elite in the fashionable resorts, the Crimea was to become the centre of a bitter controversy between two littoral states Ukraine and the Russian Federation: “Some say the Black Sea is so called because it symbolises the mourning for lost sailors, victims of unpredictable and violent storms. …The Black Sea has the potential, politically and economically to decide the fate and destiny of many living well beyond its shores”[4].

In addition to the historical and cultural dimension it was obvious at the time that the Region was of great importance for countries like Austria because of the energy connection. Economic and trade reasons prompted interest in maintaining and strengthening ties. A turn in 2008 however changed abruptly the interest of many and forced a relook at the geo-political dimension. Two littoral countries of the Black Sea region, Georgia and Russia engaged in a devastating war throwing up or maybe resurrecting hatred, division and fear. At this point at the latest it was clear that a coherent, consistent strategy for the Region should be developed. An ad hoc response to sudden crises and little activity in between is insufficient to provide background and in depth analysis of the fault lines and possible solutions.

Good Governance

Central to much of the work at this time was the promotion of concepts associated with good governance. In practice there was an array of conferences and scientific work covering the Black Sea region related to energy, trade, economics and conflict and security issues but relatively little on the topic of good governance. In fact there often was little awareness of what this might be. As time went by good governance building blocks became an important aspect of security concerns going hand in hand for provision of sustainable peace and security.

During 2011 and 2012 a new Vienna-based Institute for Go-Governance (upgrading our democratic culture) was established to promote these building blocks with projects looking at transparency, anti-corruption, parliamentary culture and the role of oppositions, government and checks and balances, constitutional procedures, political responsibility, elections and power transitions. Publications took as themes the culture of governance, the question of dialogue and governance and sustainable democracy. The most recent book focussed on governance and participation and looked at civil society, protest and the quality of policy-making and change. The countries covered besides the littoral states were the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. One point for greater understanding was that there could be a difference between political cultures and the relevance of European values. Therefore the aim of the exercise was not to preach for export but to discuss best practices and their relevance on the ground in the different countries concerned. Throughout the region though as in the EU there is an interest in quality democracy moving well beyond simply elections and a multi-party system. In achieving this experience can be shared and new ideas exchanged across borders. This is where the AER can and has made a great contribution especially under the leadership of Dr Hande Bozatli from Turkey whose own biography is so closely associated with cities such as Odessa and Batumi.

Summer School Batumi

Following a good governance conference in the Georgian capital and with the support of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, the City of Vienna and German Marshall Fund and local partners, a Summer School was organised at Batumi University on the Black Sea coast for young people from the region engaged in civil society and governance work fostering more security in the region. Selection was made by application and a group including youth from Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Russia, Ukraine and others came together for intensive study carried out by international experts. The project resulted in a publication produced by the students themselves and the seminars and field work enabled the young people to get to know better their neighbours. From this it became apparent that there was often a lack or insufficient knowledge of neighbouring countries in the region, a situation which can easily promote prejudice and conflict. Many of the young people had visited countries in the EU or even the US but often had not seen much of their own region because of difficulties in travel or visa restrictions. From the experience many friendships were formed which continued via social media subsequently. Lectures were also given by Austrian experts highlighting the country’s own difficult history and path to democracy and stability.

Awards Scheme

The Institute for Go-Governance decided after a conference series on good governance that very often examples were given again and again of bad governance, not too difficult to cite in the region. However good governance work carried out in difficult circumstances often was overlooked. Small projects carried out by enterprising individuals with little official support can however build that necessary link in the chain to strengthen democratic governance. Thus with the help of the City of Vienna, the Austrian Foreign Ministry, the Austrian Industrialists and the Assembly of European Regions an awards scheme was launched to find dedicated people pursuing such projects. Social media was used to disseminate information of the award as well as the network and Newsletter of the AER, and applications were received mostly from Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia. Successful candidates were invited from western Ukraine, from Chisinau and from Yerevan to come to Vienna with expenses paid to undergo intensive training with experts from the Austrian Foreign Ministry, the City of Vienna, the UN and the OSCE. The projects of the awardees involved improving relations between Armenia and Turkey, free media in Armenia, a student initiative in Western Ukraine to provide legal assistance and a regional scheme in Moldova. Certificates were awarded by officials from the Austrian Foreign Ministry and details can be downloaded on the Institute for Go-Governance homepage The Institute would like to organise in the future more schemes such as this as well as Summer Schools but financial support is limited and increasingly difficult to come by.

The Work of the AER

The AER sees the importance of the Black Sea Region stretching well beyond the littoral states to Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Caucasus and the Caspian area.

The Batumi Declaration was made following the second AER Black Sea summit in Georgia in April 2011. It made reference to the geo-strategic role of the region, the common ecological problems that transcend borders affecting all countries and neigbours and stressed the importance of peace and stability. For this the AER has strongly promoted and supported projects aiming to develop a dialogue between those active in the region engaged in work promoting these aims such as local and regional authorities but also civil society an important component. In accordance with the AER philosophy local and regional levels form the bedrock of fruitful dialogue which strive to cope with the many challenges facing the Black Sea region.

The Batumi declaration was aimed at European decision-makers, Member States of the EU as well as the European Parliament and the European Commission and sought their support for advancing local and regional levels in the partnership necessary for working towards a stronger region so close to home. The declaration urged an examination of the existing programmes with a view to enhancing the local and regional input and requested simplification of procedures. The AER sought even then to widen the focus of the region to include the riparian regions of the Danube, a point strongly supported by many in Austria. Common ecological problems call for common solutions. The regions in AER sought to develop a strategy and worked together in cooperating on training schemes such as Training Academies for civil servants and decision-makers.

In 2013 the fourth AER summit took place in Rize Turkey and drew up a final resolution. This recognised the vital ongoing role of the European Union in working for sustainable democracies and peace in the region. The AER encouraged however a stronger partnership in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy but considered progress modest. Above all it called for funding to match the ambitious aims of the EU and expressed concern that lack of agreement on budgetary rules could hold back progress. However the resolution noted on a positive note that some attempt had been made to streamline the programming process for greater simplicity. One of the key concepts developed by AER was multi-level governance to increase stability and long term security. For this to work effectively more fiscal autonomy was vital for for the regions. AER restated its commitment to decentralisation and support for dialogue throughout the Black Sea Region.

In 2014 representatives of the AER gathered in Bucharest at the invitation of the National Union of Romanian Counties. The meeting pushed for the EU to work on a real strategy for the Black Sea Region. Not only should synergy develop in the Danube cooperation programme but at the same time an effort should be made to maintain contacts with the Russian   Federation in increasingly difficult circumstances. The AER welcomed the signature of Association Agreements between the EU, Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova and greeted the move which should promote cooperation across the borders between Member States of the EU and others including Russia. In turn the AER called on Russia to sign financing agreements which could contribute to greater stability in the Region as a whole. A priority for the AER is and has been education, social inclusion, people to people contacts and youth programmes the foundation for the future. In the Bucharest declaration reference was made to regional and local good governance without which it is difficult to run programmes efficiently. The Academic and Training Centre offers a platform for regional administrations and experts to improve efficiency and work in this respect. At Bucharest the AER supported the idea of a Youth Black Sea Centre as an advocate of strong regions for the future. Much more work has to be done in not only securing more financial support but also in acting as a network for those working in the region to come together and pool resources.

Conclusion and Outlook

In 2015 in the framework of the 30th anniversary AER moved offices to a new home in the House of the European Regions, an appropriate centre for networking and promoting the values and ideals on the spot. Now the AER is better placed to champion the interests of regions in the Black Sea region.

Looking back on the many dramatic developments in the Black Sea region in recent times it can be said progress has been made but often at the expense of new hatred where before there was calm and strife where before there was mutual understanding. The lesson to be learnt is the promotion of people to people contact, in the regions and local communities which provide from the bottom up the potential for enduring solutions.

Much more has to be done in the Black Sea region to combat lack of trust, and fear which hinders implementation of necessary reforms. There is still to date a democratic sustainability deficit and progress if at all is at snail’s pace; the legacy of the Soviet era is still cited as holding back governance having entrenched a culture of passivity: “Shaped by a strong central state ideology subnational authorities in the Black Sea area do not have the political support they have had by tradition and political culture in Western Europe. Although all of the states around the Black Sea have sub-national authorities, they lack independence, political power and fiscal autonomy”. [5] AER has accumulated a wealth of experience in the region stretching back to the fall of the Soviet Union and has shared the ups and downs, the setbacks and progress of its regions.

One of the greatest challenges is to muster financial support for even the most modest projects. To date the Institute for Go-Governance can be grateful for the enthusiasm of members of the AER, the Austrian Foreign Ministry and the City of Vienna and support kindly made available to realise the implementation of projects.


Professor Dr Melanie Sully is a British-born political scientist, consultant and writer who was formerly a visiting professor at the Universities of Innsbruck and Vienna. From 1992 to 2010 she was professor at the Vienna Diplomatic Academy. In addition Dr Sully has worked as Voice of America correspondent at the UN and other international organisations in Austria, has done consultancy on good governance related projects for the OSCE, GRECO and has worked in the Caucasus and the West Balkans in this capacity. Dr Sully is a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London and the International Political Science Association in Canada. She has written books and articles on the topics of European politics and gives regular lectures at the University of London and in Vienna.

The Institute for Go-Governance is an independent non-party think tank registered in accordance with Austrian law, with an executive board, specialist advisors and with an external financial audit. It is run by Prof Dr Melanie Sully and communication entrepreneur Dr Josef Mantl.




[1] For more see, Agnes Ciccarone, „Governance in the Black Sea Basin”, in Governance and Participation, ed Melanie Sully, Institute for Go-Governance, Vienna, 2015.

[2] See „Sustainable Governance in the Black Sea Region“ by the AER, in Governance and Sustainability, ed Melanie Sully, Institute for Go-Governance, Vienna, 2014.

[3] In particular the International Department under Dr Oskar Wawra and with Thomas Resch.

[4]  Melanie Sully, “Reflections on the Black Sea” in Black Sea Calling Diplomatic Academy, Vienna, 2008 p.14

[5] Governance and Sustainability, op. cit. p 28.