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Snakes, oil, Romanians and Ukrainians

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Autor: Adrian Năstase 13 Aug 2008 - 00:00

This is not a film title. And, actually, it is more about natural gas, which could be found in an area of nearly 12,000 square kilometers in the north-west of the Black Sea. And that would allow Romania to stop importing gas from the East for almost two decades. Yes, it is the dispute between Romania and Ukraine for the delimitation of the continental plateau and of the exclusive economic areas in the Black Sea, which will be solved soon - no later than at the beginning of next year – by the International Court of Justice in Hague, the most important judicial institution of the world, the main judicial organ of the UN.



This is not a film title. And, actually, it is more about natural gas, which could be found in an area of nearly 12,000 square kilometers in the north-west of the Black Sea. And that would allow Romania to stop importing gas from the East for almost two decades. Yes, it is the dispute between Romania and Ukraine for the delimitation of the continental plateau and of the exclusive economic areas in the Black Sea, which will be solved soon - no later than at the beginning of next year – by the International Court of Justice in Hague, the most important judicial institution of the world, the main judicial organ of the UN.

This is the real stake of this process, brought by Romania since September 2004, after years of failed negotiations, in front of the 15 judges of the Court, the most famous lawyers specialized in international law, who are impartial and with a great expertise experience in sea dividing. The Court in Hague cannot decide for the case of the Snakes Island. Why? Because, in 1997, when the political Treaty was signed between the two countries, they did not give ICJ the power to decide who the tiny stone in the model of the Black Sea belongs to. The ICJ, like any other international Court cannot solve more than the sides decided to.

The Snakes Island doesn’t even have the military relevance from the past Soviet times – of which I remember during the recent tour in uniform of President Yushchenko, who came to take a picture with the so-called "population" of a few rangers. Who handle with stoicism the inhumane conditions on the rock where water, grass and trees are just untouchable dreams. The steep and inhospitable sides of the Island are also untouchable which makes the supplies get there with considerable delays. As learned by the Ukrainian journalists brought in a group organized several weeks ago in the first and last attempt of extreme tourism.

On September 2nd the public pleas will start in Hague for a period of three weeks, which will show the arguments of the two neighbor states. Romania will show that the recent measures, accompanied by such an unnecessarily aggressive advertising, for "bringing beauty" and "development" for only 0.17 square km of rock, cannot create an artificial right for the Snakes Island as far as the continental plateau and the economic area are concerned. As a professor of international law, I know that, in order to determine whether an island can support human habitation or economic life of its own, all that matters are the natural characteristics of the place, and not how the place would look after it's costly arrangement. Further, legally speaking, the constant and repeated protests of Romania against these measures are perfect enough to block any effects on the process to the detriment of Romania. Without doubt, this is money thrown away on internal advertising in the neighbor country, but completely irrelevant to the Court in Hague.

Because, actually, the Court will certainly indicate, as it did in many cases of clear sea dividing that they have already resolved in its over 60 years of existence, a solution with clear, logical, almost mathematical steps, starting, of course, with the rules and principles of the law of the sea, which is based on the given geographical context, the area that has to be delimitated. Romania has always proposed the method during the negotiations. Finally, ICJ will decide for the equitable solution of the trial. There will not be an arbitrary compromise "between" the claims of Romania and the one of Ukraine, but the strict application of the rules and laws - a line of separation drawn on the map, certainly defined by geographical coordinates, beyond any interpretation. It will be the final point of a dispute that has lasted for over 40 years - a final, irrevocable and mandatory decision, which must be immediately applied and respected.

This effort involves intense work over the years, yet discreet (as the rules require in the Court), but with a huge volume and substance from the Romanian team that represents us in Hague. It's a team of young but very effective diplomats, who have already confirmed in many heavy diplomatic battles (do you remember the Romanian diplomatic success in the matter of the Law for the Hungarians abroad?).
I remember that in 2004, as prime minister, I decided to notify the Court in Hague. I thought at that time that it takes a gesture of courage and responsibility, to respond effectively to the political games in Ukraine based on a sequence of facts that had taken place and delays of the bilateral negotiations.

This process - with all its work behind - is a project of national interest beyond any political color. And it has to be supported at national level. Because, beyond its concrete and consistent stake - tens of thousands of square kilometers of sovereign rights and jurisdiction and billions of cubic meters of gas -, there is a symbolic stake: the recovery of a profile worthy of Romania in the direct neighbor region - through Romania – for the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance.

The solution chosen by Romania in 2004, in its old dispute with Ukraine proves - especially in view of the military developments in the South Caucasus - the importance and value of search in any case, of a rational and, first of all, peaceful solution.
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