1. Historic framework: from Stability Pact to Regional Cooperation Council
The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) operates as a support structure for regional cooperation among the countries of South East Europe. It was preceded by the Stability Pact for South East Europe and became officially active in 2008.
The Stability Pact for South East Europe was created in 1999 on European Union initiative, and its dozens of signatories included countries and international organisations engaged in supporting the countries of South East Europe in efforts and reforms aimed at sustainable peace, democratic development and economic well being aimed at ensuring long-lasting stability to the region. The Pact offered a comprehensive and coordinated strategy and was a substantial improvement on the international community’s previous approach to crises and security problems in the Balkans. It represented a form of regional cooperation through which Union Member States, the European Commission, the countries of the region, Russia, the US, Canada, Japan, and various financial institutions and international organisations participated in reinforcing peace and stability in the region. The Pact functioned on the basis of good neighbour agreements signed between the States of South East Europe; its work was divided first into regional groups (chaired by a special coordinator) made up of several subgroups: the first of these for democratisation and human rights, the second for reconstruction, cooperation and economic development, and the third for security issues. Thus a mechanism was created for coordinating the policies of the various players engaged in the Balkans area and approving the policies adopted by those who had signed the Pact itself.
Italy participated in a meaningful way in the activities of the Stability Pact both financially, figuring among the top bilateral donors, as well as in terms of human resources.
The decision was taken in May 2006 to replace the Stability Pact with the Regional Cooperation Council, and institution made up of the countries of South East Europe who had previously benefited from the Stability Pact. This decision reflected the need for advanced by the countries in question to be given more responsibility, offering a response to their desire to move from a “paternalistic” phase into a more active and responsible one in the management of regional operations.
The activities of the Regional Cooperation Council were formally launched in 2008, at the same time that the Stability Pact was officially terminated.
2. Areas of activity
The Council supports regional cooperation in South East Europe, promotes the region’s EU and Euro-Atlantic integration and provides operational backup for the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) through its secretariat.
Its main focus areas are:
- Economic and Social Development: regional trade and investment, particularly application of the Central European Free Trade Agreement of 2006(CEFTA), and of the regional investment framework, in coordination with the private sector and in association with adequate social policies.
- Infrastructure: transport, especially the main corridors, energy, the environment, and aerospace and IT technologies.
- Justice and Home Affairs: principally the struggle against organised crime and corruption, including support for strengthened cooperation through the SECI, and the Regional Centre for Combating Transborder Crime and Europol;
- Security Cooperation: security reforms, military conversion, light weapons control and strengthening of civilian control of the armed forces;
- Boosting Human Capital: education, research and science, strengthening administrative capabilities in these sectors;
- Parliamentary Cooperation as a transversal theme in the support of cooperation in all the above-mentioned areas.
The Regional Cooperation Council also cooperates with other organisations and initiatives operating in South East Europe, including the Central European Initiative (CEI), with which it began negotiations in early 2009 on a memorandum of understanding to strengthen mutual collaboration, and with the Adriatic Ionian Initiative (AII).
3. How it works
The Council is headed by Secretary General Hido Biščevic, former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Croatia, who is assisted by a Secretariat located in Sarajevo. The Council also has a support office in Brussels.
The Secretariat supports the Council and the SEECP in their work with an annual budget of approximately 3 billion euro, one-third of which is financed by the SEECP countries (Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Moldavia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey) and UNMIK/Kosovo (according to the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1244), one-third by the European Commission, and one-third by international donors.
The RCC was legally established by a Host Country Agreement signed in Plovdiv on 14 September 2007 between Bosnia-Herzegovina, the host country, and the SEECP countries and UNMIK/Kosovo (UNSCR 1244). A second agreement was negotiated between the RCC Secretary General and Belgium to regulate the status of the RCC support office in Brussels. The Council’s functions are outlined in a detailed Charter approved in May 2007.
The Council’s members are the SEECP countries and UNMIK/Kosovo (UNSCR1244), the European Union represented by the Troika (the EU presidency, European Commission and Secretariat of the Council of the European Union) and all the donor countries, and international organisations and financial institutions actively and substantially engaged in regional cooperation in South East Europe, which includes Italy.
The Council meets annually at Senior Civil Servant level in the margins of the annual SEECP summit to ensure strategic coordination and the development of processes of regional cooperation, and to approve the RCC Secretary General’s annual report and the strategic plan for the next year.
The Council Board, made up of RCC members contributing to the Secretariat budget, namely the SEECP countries and UNMIK/Kosovo (UNSCR1244) and various donor countries and the European Union, meets 4 times yearly in order to ensure continuity of intent and supervision.
 The South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) was established in Sofia in 1996 as a regional cooperation initiative on the impetus of the foreign ministers of the countries of South East Europe. Current members include: Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Romania and Moldavia. The initiative aims to strengthen good neighbour relations between the countries of South East Europe and to contribute to the creation of an area of peace, stability, security and collaboration, as well as the region’s full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. Cooperation between members extends to the sectors of security and stability, economic and environmental development, the promotion of humanitarian, social and cultural cooperation, as well as the fight against organised crime, terrorism, and illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings.
The SEECP maintains close contact with the international organisations and other regional cooperation bodies; representatives of the UN, EU, OSCE, CEI, BSEC, World Bank and the Stability Pact attend its meetings.
The heads of state of member countries meet once a year at a summit is chaired by the head of government of the host country. Meetings of the representatives of foreign ministers make up the main forum for the promotion of Process goals and take place 4 times a year in the country holding the annually rotating presidency. The functions of the Secretariat are ensured by the Regional Cooperation Council.
 The South East Europe Cooperative Initiative is a regional association established in 1996 on the basis of an understanding between the US and the EU to encourage collaboration among SECI member states (Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldavia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro) and to facilitate their integration into European institutions. The initiative’s goal is to increase regional stability by developing cooperation. The intention is for participating states to activate improvements in systems for information exchange, plan inter-country programmes and attract private capital for regional development. Italy participates as a permanent observer. The initiative has led to the creation of a centre for security collaboration known as the SECI Regional Centre for Combating Transborder Crime (http://www.secicenter.org).