Turkey’s Black Sea coast, far from its tumultuous southern border, offers a promising contrast its more troubled efforts to join the EU and to expand networks in the Middle East. Ankara has emerged as the dominant initiator of regional cooperation, institutionalized by the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), which was founded on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Although Turkey was one of 10 founding members, it played a leading role in BSEC's establishment, and the organization's permanent headquarters is still located in Istanbul.
BSEC's early years were dominated by “Turkey’s initiative to offer these countries an alternative” to their socialist economic systems, says Traian Chebeleu, a former Romanian ambassador and current deputy secretary of BSEC’s transportation activities. In 1992, the same year BSEC was founded, Turkey launched its foreign aid program for developing countries, the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), which, in its early phases, focused on assisting the newly independent Central Asian and Caucasus states.
Today, the Black Sea states are hoping that projects like the Black Sea Ring Highway will further stimulate trade and economic cooperation. Trade within the region rebounded rapidly from a decline in 2009, while trade with the EU recovered at a slower rate. Countries here may be beginning to see interregional outreach as more beneficial than looking outward to their less stable neighbors. While road travel between BSEC states grew at a rate of 40.8 percent between 2007 and 2011, travel between BSEC states and the EU lagged behind somewhat, growing 36.3 percent.