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In general terms, EU policies and strategies seem to have mostly either weakened sub-regionalism, rather than reinforce it, or captured it within EU institutional and bureaucratic logics, which results in a significantly decrease in ownership by non-EU states. These failures are not necessarily policy ones and the EU may just be too large, too institutionalised and too integrated to allow for strong sub-regionalism to flourish on its fringes.

Regional organizations and arrangements in the Black Sea region

The EU and its member states have proven a genuine commitment to at least the most visible forms of sub-regionalism, but the very policies of the EU carry a strong weight, one which witnesses the importance of the EU in the wider European space, but also one which leaves little space to smaller forms of multilateralism. Project Context and Objectives: EU4Seas was conceived in , as part of a wider intellectual effort to have a better understanding of the EU's performance in relation to multilateralism.

The choice of EU4Seas was to focus on multilateralism at a small scale in Europe's geographical fringes. The context in which the project was designed has significantly evolved in the last four years, and even though the main objective of the project has remained unaltered, the research questions and, in particular, some of the assumptions, had to be reviewed along the process. The project proposal stated that EU4Seas 'attaches great importance to the twin objectives of building a theoretical framework and providing a solid empirical base for the analysis of the relation between the EU and sub-regional multilateralism in Europe's closed sea basins, which can be useful both for further academic research and for policy-makers.

The three main factors altering the equation in which the research took place were the effects of the economic crisis on the EU's international standing, the institutional changes in the EU itself in particular, in its external relations and evolution of the neighbourhood of the EU. These three main factors, and the initial results of the research, made it advisable to adjust the focus of the research, in particular in the way of approaching the sub-regions, leaving behind the more institutional aspects that prevailed in the research proposal in favour of a more geopolitical view of the regions.

At that time, the developed world had just averted a crisis of major dimensions, which had climaxed in October with the fall of Lehman Brothers. The EU was deeply involved in the crisis through its banking system, and with time emerged as the main looser in international standing, as the USA tackled the aftermath of that fateful autumn with more determination and better results and large parts of the developing world emerged by and large unscathed by the global financial turmoil.

Thus, the crisis accelerated the decline in relative influence of the European Union in the economic sphere, and that decline would soon find its expression in the political field. This process became more evident in the following years. The financial crisis gave way to a downturn in the whole of the economy, which in turn put the public finances of the European countries under strain.

The sovereign debt crisis that started to unfold in early holds the economic governance of the EU under unprecedented strain and threatens one of the EU's most admired successes, the Single Currency. Thus, the three years in which the research took place were times of steep decline in the fortunes of the European project, which were felt in its international standing and action. The first way in which this affected the context of the research is the visible erosion of the attractiveness of the European model. European integration is no longer the paradigm of success and the blueprint for regionalism across the planet.


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Its weight in international multilateral forums is increasingly challenged, and other international actors are less eager to accept the unique character of the EU amongst regional organisations in the world, as proved by the bumpy road the EU had to follow in order to upgrade its status in the United Nations. The EU has seen its influence eroded by the emergence of groups like the G20 and the progressive transformations of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

In its close neighbourhood, integration into the EU or close economic links are still attractive, but in public perceptions many have come to see it as the best available alternative, almost a lesser evil, rather than the most desirable outcome. The second way in which the context has been transformed as a consequence of the EU crisis is the logical consequence of the point above. As the EU becomes less attractive, other alternatives appear more appealing.

This means that painful harmonization of legislation and demanding EU conditionality are starting to be weighted against the benefits of looser forms of cooperation. It also implies that countries turn to other powers in the neighbourhood, such as Turkey and Russia, or beyond, China or the Persian Gulf, for investment, political support or inspiration in the modes of governance.

The third effect of the crisis that impinged upon the context of EU4Seas only started to be felt towards the end of the period. The rigid financial programming structure of the EU means that the economic instruments at the disposal of the EU institutions have stayed relatively stable. But the European private sector and some member states' governments have cut substantially their means of projecting their goals through financial means.

That, in the short span of three years where the research took place, tended to reinforce the weight of common institutions but to weaken the influence of Europe as a whole. Institutional changes in the EU In November the Treaty of Lisbon entered into place, ending years of institutional debate that started with the Convention on the Future of Europe. One of the main novelties of the Treaty is a complete revamp of the institutional set-up for external relations.

The redistribution of competences and the creation of the European External Action Service happened in parallel to the research. However, the four regions that are the object of study of EU4Seas continue to sit in between areas of competence of different institutional structures of the EU, as they include member states, actual or potential candidates, neighbours, a strategic partner Russia and other third countries. This created a new institutional framework for the Baltic but also a new approach that now brings numerous elements of 'internal' EU policies, such as regional policy and environment policy, under the frame of the European Commission's DG Regio.

That example was followed in June by the Danube Macro-Region, which brought in candidates and potential candidates to EU membership. During this period, therefore, the institutional structures for better integration of internal policies with external ones such as enlargement and neighbourhood started to emerge.

A third institutional innovation of these three years with consequences in the research was the creation of two frameworks for dealing separately with the Eastern and the Southern neighbourhood. The Union for the Mediterranean was launched in Paris in July , and came to existence exactly as the research started. In May the EU launched its Eastern Partnership together with six countries of Eastern Europe, thus acknowledging the need to differentiate them from the southern neighbours and to put in place a specific strategy for them.

These novelties were taken into account in the conduct of the research, although their effective implementation has not advanced much, in particular in the case of the Union for the Mediterranean. Finally, it is worth signalling the integration of two policies, Enlargement and Neighbourhood, under one single EU Commissioner. The position was seen with suspicion by candidates and potential candidates, who feared that the heretofore strict boundary between countries with a European membership perspective and those without one may erode, and it was welcomed, for that very same reason, by neighbours whose European membership perspective had not been acknowledged by the EU such as Moldova and Ukraine.

By the same token, though, the hope that a single political representative and a single structure would deal with the region were dashed. A transformed Neighbourhood However important the changes have been in the EU, the transformation of its neighbouring regions has been no less significant. As EU4Seas was being designed, the German Russian Nordstream project, envisaging an undersea gas pipeline specifically designed to circumvent Germany's EU Baltic partner's and Russia's western neighbours, arose a new interest in an area that, after the enlargement, many considered reliably stable and solidly grounded on friendly relations.

No sooner had the research of EU4Seas started than another region witnessed a much more open escalation of rivalries culminating in the August Ruso-Georgian war, which highlighted the radical transformation that the Black Sea was undergoing, and the need for new approaches to its governance. Energy and security issues were on the spotlight, but they did not obscure a substantial increase in sub-regional economic flows of all kind, from tourists to investments, from trade to remittances.

In summer widespread protest after the Iranian presidential election challenged the Caspian sub-regional order but failed to achieve political change. Democratic protestors did succeed in Tunisia in January and thus started a transformation of the Mediterranean sub-region that is still unfolding, not least as the sovereign debt crisis hits the EU's Mediterranean countries with unprecedented rigour.

In the course of three years, the focus has changed from one region to another, each time proving that sub-regional approaches to the neighbourhood of the EU were not only useful, but indispensable to deal with rapid change, challenges and opportunities. There are three important lessons from the last three years in the neighbouring countries that had to be taken into account. The first one is that progress towards better relations in neither unequivocal nor irreversible, and that countries can and do change course, altering sub-regional balances, as happened in Ukraine with the Presidential election or in Moldova with the Legislative election, in opposite directions.

The second one is that stability and continuity is not better served by authoritarian regimes, as events in the southern Mediterranean have clearly proven in , a lesson which should not be forgotten in the energy-rich Caspian region. The last one is that sub-regions can be as much as space for cooperation and mutual assistance as one for geopolitical competition and tensions, and that the EU is not necessarily perceived by external actors as contributing to the former and not the latter, as could be witnessed in the Black Sea region in those three years.

Adapting the approach to new realities EU4Seas had to take into account all the changes outlined above and incorporate them into the topics for research, the seminars and the interviews. In addition to that, and by comparison to the project as it was negotiated and approved in , the partners also had to readjust the focus of their research. The initial project attributed an important weight to the institutions of sub-regional cooperation.

As the research proceeded and events unfolded, however, the partners realised that multilateralism at sub-regional level was not confined to the weak sub-regional institutions, and that sub-regional developments were a lot richer and more relevant than the absence of changes in those institutions would suggest. As a result, the research adopted a sub-regional focus that was less institutional than initially envisaged at the level of the sub-region although the institutional approach remained central in the other part of the equation, the study of the EU and its policies.

Such adaptation resulted in more substantive findings and, in particular, in conclusions that were relevant from a policy perspective to the region and to the external action of the EU. With this exception, the initial design of the research was maintained and the objectives achieved to a satisfactory level.

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The partners adapted their work to a changing environment and, as a result, the outcomes of EU4Seas offer good elements to interpret not just the past evolution of the EU's impact of small-scale, sub-regional multilateralism on its fringes, but also the present moment, including the strengths and weaknesses of the current modes of engagement, strategic sub-regional approaches and institutional set-up.

According to the EU itself, "subregional initiatives could in the future attain an increasing role in the 'new' Europe, in the pursuit of a stable and integrated Europe" COM 97 final. However, the effects of EU policies on sub-regionalism are far from homogenously positive.

Studying them is a good test to the EU commitment to promoting multilateralism not just at a global scale, but also in its fringes and its closes neighbourhood. The collaborative approach that brought together eight centres that are located in all the four sub-regions allowed the EU4Seas team to produce a wealth of evidence that constitutes the basis for the largest study on European sub-regionalism in a decade and an innovative view of the interaction between a number of EU policies and strategies, on the one hand, and sub-regional institutions and looser forms of sub-regional cooperation.

The design of the research was relatively straightforward: four thematic areas were chosen, and each are was research for each of the four basins. The resulting matrix of results allowed for comparison between topics and between regions. The team work was undertaken in a unified manner, and partners stayed active throughout the three years of the research and undertook similar activities on similar topics at the same time.

Even before the start of the research, they put together a panel at the summer World International Studies Conference in Ljubljana that laid the ground for the project. Three years later, some of the researchers of EU4Seas met again at the following edition of the WISC, this time in Porto, to present some of the main results. The pace of the research was established by the succession of six seminars. Each seminar had a specific role in the overall project. The first seminar laid the ground for the project with an in depth examination of sub-regional multilateralism and of the ways in which the EU interacts with it.

The following four dealt with the four thematic areas of the project: - political and security issues, - environment and maritime policy, - energy and transport, and - free movement of people, goods, capital and services. The last seminar of the project served to extract scientific conclusions and to compare the results in a geographical perspective. It was also the opportunity to extract policy conclusions of all the findings. The seminars became points of reference for the study of sub-regionalism in the last three years.

They brought together the researchers of the partnership with other academic researchers specialising in the theme of the seminar and a practitioners from sub-regional organisations, EU institutions and national government. In addition to including some of those stakeholders as paper presenters, each seminar included one round table of practitioners that became a way of opening up the relatively narrow and specialised debates. The fact that they were conducted in all the regions meant that involvement of local researchers and national practitioners was direct in Spain, Italy, Iceland, Turkey, Ukraine and Estonia.

Two additional dissemination events expanded the benefits of this outreach to stakeholders in Azerbaijan and in Brussels. The main product of the seminars was the papers, grouped in one series of EU4Seas working papers. All these working papers put together explore a diversity of topics and provide ample empirical and analytical detail.

Some of the papers did not enter that series, as they were included individually or as group in referenced scientific publications. The papers are the main outcome of the project, but they in turn became the basis of two further steps in the research. The papers and seminars were the basis on which the partners designed a collaborative exercise in interviews. The researchers from the project visited cities in 30 countries and made interviews. They standardised the answers without turning simple questionnaires, and grouped the resulting reports into a single database that is now open and available for all researchers with an interest in sub-regional multilateralism, but also on the external aspects of a number of EU policies such as environment or free movement of people.

The interviews served as the empirical material used for the papers produced at the later stage of the process, including working papers and also policy briefs. These policy briefs brought together the policy-relevant conclusions of the whole exercise and grouped them geographically and thematically. The result is a set of insightful views that address some of the main challenges that the EU faces in shaping its closest neighbourhood. The research has produced a large body of evidence and analysis, and served to link active academics, stakeholders and analysts and bind them in a pan-European community of people interested in sub-regionalism.

The EU4Seas webpage, and the newsletter that serves to publicise its new content, have become a valuable resource for all of them, as it groups not only the scientific and policy papers, but also interview reports and even a number of best practices that can be transferable from one sub-region to another. The main findings and conclusions of the project are outlined in the sections that follow. Sub-regional multilateralism in Europe Although European sub-regionalism can be traced back to the period right after WWII, with notable examples including the Nordic Council and the Benelux, it was the reconfiguration of the European map that took place after that provided the perfect opportunity for the emergence of sub-regional multilateralism in the form of agreements, summits and even institutions.

Researchers took an interest in the phenomenon from the mides, and soon linked it to a number of factors: the need to reduce conflicts and rivalries, and avoid the resurgence of old grievances; the conformation of a post-bipolar identity for a number of old and new actors; the overwhelming challenge of globalisation for previously protected economies, and the need to cope with the collapse of the previous system in the Eastern half of the continent; and the creation of intermediate steps towards the ultimate aspiration of European integration. All of these issues seemed relatively outdated when the EU like NATO finalised its big enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe and established a sort of hegemonic presence in the wider European space.

As Enlargement brought more Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea countries into the EU, and a newly created Neighbourhood policy encompassed the countries around the 27, sub-regional approaches appeared less and less relevant and sub-regional multilateralism seemed on its way to disappearance. But the decade of also saw worsening relations between the EU and Russia and the collapse of the Israel Palestine Peace process and the progressive failure of the Barcelona Process that it had made possible. In the second half of the decade tensions grew bigger and the sub-regions around the EU became new spaces of geopolitical competition.

The literature on sub-regionalism is relatively limited: EU4Seas has been the main large-scale project devoted to it in a decade, and the scope of its comparative approach is unprecedented. However, it did not build on a vacuum.

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The literature about the external action of the EU provided numerous points of reference. The main conceptual problem is where to place the relationship between the EU and sub-regional cooperative schemes in the wider context of the different modes of relationship of the EU with the rest of the world. Multilateralism is of course one of these modes, and the one which frames not just this project, but the whole research field in which it was inserted together with another two parallel 7th FP projects, EU GRASP and Mercury.

But at least four other modes of relation must be taken into account.


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Bilateralism plays a large role in the EU relations with its neighbourhood, and it takes the shape of a strategic partnership with one of them, Russia, which is a crucial player in 3 of the 4 seas of the project. Relations with sub-regional institutions may also be analysed under the light of Interregionalism, but the undeniably useful insights provided by this literature are only partially applied when the parts of the EU and even, in some cases, some EU institutions themselves, like the case of the European Commission being an observer member in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation are also part of the sub-regional organisations.

Stabilization as an objective and, at the same time, a mode of engagement needs to be taken into account too, as the EU devises specific tools not just for the improvement of governance and stability of countries, but also for better sub-regional relations, the most obvious case being the Western Balkans. Finally, Enlargement has become a mode of relation of its own, and arguably one of the most powerful in transforming countries and sub-regions. During the course of the research partners had to establish to what extent those modes were compatible, complementary or competing in one same geographical area, and contradictions resulting from their coexistence became apparent.

It was also important to establish whether the choice for these different modes was consistent between the different regions, and it soon emerged that the differences were striking, bilateralism being the almost exclusive one at play in the Caspian, while the other three sea basins witness an uncomfortable combination of all five modes, some times with contradictory effects.

The different modes were not neutral in their impact on sub-regional multilateralism. Enlargement proved to be most divisive on that account with one important exception, the Baltic Sea, where cooperation has become something akin to purely intra-EU dynamics with the corresponding alienating effects on the Baltic's larger player, Russia. As the most institutionalised and regulated mode of relationship, enlargement is also the least flexible.

Sub-regional organisations became passive subjects of a dynamic process that radically alters the sub-regions, suffer from the diversion of trade and political interest towards the EU, and suffer as sub-regionalism becomes a less desirable option once membership seems attainable. Additionally, enlargement pulls the EU into new sub-regions, as happened in the Black Sea after Romania and Bulgaria became member states.

As for the other modes, bilateralism is almost unavoidable given the asymmetry of relations with the different states in each sub-region, but also given the EU's tendency to privilege some states as potential 'swing states' for all the region such as Ukraine in the Black Sea or Egypt in the Mediterranean , or as benchmarks for others such as Moldova or Tunisia in the same areas , and to accommodate the tension between thinking regionally and acknowledging the special role of some larger powers such as Russia and Turkey. EU conditionality is an additional factor that results in a preference for bilateralism, despite the existence of regional cooperation clauses.

The semblance of interregionalism with clear asymmetries between the EU and the institutions of the Baltic Sea and Black Sea has proven of limited value, and so has multilateralism when interpreted as the creation of institutions that, in the end, responded almost exclusively to the political will of the European Union and its member states, and whose best example are the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and, in particular, its successor, the Union for the Mediterranean. The rationales and roles see Reference 1 of sub-regionalism in the wider Europe can be grouped under four headings: - Bridging, i.

If the original function of many organisations was to overcome the Cold War divide, managing the EU enlargement divide and, to a lesser extent, the NATO enlargement divide has become more prominent. In the Mediterranean, averting an open rift with the Arab and Islamic world has been an important aim too.

In a Europe of small countries, newly independent nations and unsettled territorial claims, the integration onto the international stage remains an important function. Sub-regional groupings like the Visegrad group, the cooperation between the Baltic states and the Adriatic Cooperation, as well as agreements like the Central European Free Trade Area, served as preparatory groups and allowed the participants to show the kind of 'responsible' and conciliatory behaviour towards their neighbours demanded for their Euro-Atlantic integration.

Some areas, like environment and transport infrastructure, have been particularly favourable to cooperation. But other functional areas, such as energy, have in fact been a factor of division, rather than cooperation, in places like the Caspian and the Black Sea. Here again, there are exceptions, for example in the Black Sea area, where increase trade opportunities across the sea may result in less focus on the EU markets and, therefore, in the in depth reforms required to access it freely. Sub-regionalism has often been accused of staying at the level of rhetoric and being unable to deliver real change.

That accusation needs to be contrasted with the reality of sub-regionalism, which varies from place to place. In terms of institutionalisation, for instance, there are significant variations both in nature and in degree.


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In all cases, though, institutions have remained primarily inter-governmental rather than supra-national, and also in all cases their secretariats or other permanent structures are small in size and lack substantive powers. The availability of resources is also an issue, although here the contrast between northern groupings, such as the Baltic ones, and southern as eastern ones, is stark. Often resources are not raised by the organisation or provided by its members, but obtained from external actors, which could be the European Commission but also other institutions such as the World Bank.

The scale of the substantive programmes varies according to the availability of funds. Additionally, many sub-regional groups suffer from being too broad in character and lacking the necessary specialisation to achieve sustained impact in a certain policy area. Some of the literature on sub-regionalism has focused on trying to create typologies of sub-regionalism. Michael Emerson see Reference 2 , for instance, identifies no less than nine possible species of regionalism: technical, good neighbourliness, security, eclectic, dysfunctional, institutional, transformative, compensatory or geopolitical.

This typology mixes objectives, performance and areas of cooperation. As a result, it was neither applicable to the four studied sub-regions nor to concrete institutions such as the Council of Baltic Sea States. EU4Seas developed its own elements of comparison between the sub-regions, which are useful not just for the four sea basins, but more generally for other attempts to study compared sub-regionalism. Thus, it emerged that at least four elements are important when we want to compare sub-regionalism in two or more geographical spaces: 1.

Aim: why are countries cooperating? Is it to build confidence with their neighbours, to solve technical issues, as a step towards further integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, or into wider global affairs? Institutionalisation: how institutionalised is sub-regionalism? Are there permanent institutions, joint programmes, agreements, summits, structured political dialogue? Performance: does sub-regionalism make a difference? Is cooperation functional, does it solve real issues, is the use of resources efficient and effective, is there a measurable impact on specific policy areas? Actorness: who is playing a role in sub-regionalism?

Is there an external driver like the EU , is it purely at the hands of national governments, are civil society, business and local and regional authorities genuine stakeholders? These lines of comparison proved more useful than attempts to categorise or label sub-regionalism, or sub-regional institutions. The original research proposal for EU4Seas asked the following question: 'What have been the main achievements and failures, and what are the strong and weak points of sub-regional multilateralism, and in which areas has it been most successful?

It is relatively easy to follow and explain the political evolution of the Caspian or the Mediterranean, for example, but it is inherently difficult to assess the impact of sub-regional organisations. Sub-regionalism has coexisted with powerful transforming forces such as the consolidation of new states, internal reforms, the enlargement of NATO and the EU or the transformation of the geoeconomics in particular, those of energy and the geopolitics of Europe, the Arab World and Asia.

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Thus, it is difficult to establish clear cause effect relationships, in particular in the absence of detailed impact assessments. The counter-factual question is therefore a challenge: would Europe and its sub-regions be substantially different had there not been multilateral arrangements at the sub-regional scale?

After hundreds of interviews with a sub-regional focus, and with the contributions of papers and seminars, the picture that emerges is of a positive but limited impact. In the past, sub-regionalism helped the integration of new countries into international relations in difficult times, contributed to bridge some of the Cold War rifts, played a positive role in preparation of states for EU membership, helped manage tensions and divisions resulting from NATO and EU enlargement, made some contributions to the process reform, encouraged economic and personal links and did address some functional challenges and some particularly challenging transnational issues such as pollution in the Baltic and in the Caspian.

None of these can be attributed solely or mainly to sub-regionalism, which has remained since its very onset a secondary phenomenon in the wider European sphere. Interestingly, however, the research has found little enthusiasm for stopping sub-regional activities altogether, even in times of financial stress for the governments. In addition to some of the roles played in the past, the research has pointed out some new challenges that may highlight again the benefits of sub-regionalism: the need to overcome the 'hard border' effect of some EU policies in particular, those related to free movement of people , the notable slowdown in the enlargement of both NATO and the EU with the exceptions of Croatia and maybe Iceland , the sub-regionalisation of the Arab world as a result of its extraordinary transformation in with dynamics in the Maghreb, the Mashreq and the Gulf going in separate directions , the need to find new formulas for engagement with Russia and the prospect for an increasing variability in EU integration are amongst them.

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A first preoccupation of the research was therefore to test that commitment against the real practice and effects of the EU's external relations. The particularity of EU4Seas was the choice of scale: rather than seeing the EU as a component of a larger form of multilateralism, it studied its impact on smaller, weaker and less institutionalised sub-regional multilateralism. That choice needs to be put in the wider context of other forms of multilateralism.

Multilateralism can happen at different levels sub-regional, regional and global. This raises the question of whether or not there is tension between the levels. For instance: are closed multilateral agreements compatible with wider multilateral solutions? This is a classic dilemma in trade policy, for instance, where regional agreements hold the potential of restricting global trade governance. There are at least four areas of dissonance in the normative assumptions behind global multilateralism and those behind multilateral solutions restricted to a particular geographical area.

We have grouped them in the following table: Normative assumptions: Global Multilateralism Sub regional multilateralism Universal solutions are preferable Regional problems have regional solutions Peace is indivisible The region as a space of security in a complex, insecure world Local conflicts should be dealt with within global institutions like the UN Local conflicts should be framed regionally Alliances, including regional ones, are a bad thing Competing alliances are a bad thing, but the region standing together is not This kind of tension can be reconciled, but it must not be ignored.

The easiest way to combine the two views is to consider that sub regional multilateralism is one of the building blocks of global multilateral governance, a view that is sustained by the abundant literature on regionalism and has been explored by one of the parallel 7th FP projects, EU GRASP, that worked under the same heading as EU4Seas. If we apply this vision of regions as building blocks in global multilateral governance to the wider European space, we could conclude that sub-regionalism contributes to a more united Europe, in the long run.

The Dynamics of Black Sea Subregionalism

This view is clearer in the cases of the Baltic sea and of the Black sea than when dealing with the Mediterranean or, indeed, Caspian region, that are only partly European. So how did the EU fare in its commitment to support sub-regional multilateralism? And what can this tell us more generally about the EU's commitment to multilateralism? In institutional terms, the EU is a giant compared to the weak multilateral institutions and agreements at sub-regional scale that exist throughout the European space.

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The application of internal EU rules is extremely inflexible, and it affects not only member states but also candidates and even neighbours. For all these reasons, the declared intention to support multilateralism at a sub-regional scale is not necessarily compatible with the effects of the whole spectrum of EU policies. We could group the observed impacts of the EU and its policies on sub-regional cooperation were organised into five main categories 1.

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The Dynamics of Black Sea Subregionalism. Dr Panagiota Manoli. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.