Address by Mr Pertti Torstila, Secretary of State, at Center for International Relations in Warsaw

Address by Mr Pertti Torstila, Secretary of State
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
Center for International Relations in Warsaw
May 14, 2008

Our Baltic Sea – risks and prospects

Poland's entry into EU membership four years ago has not only made Poland and Finland EU partners but acted as a catalyst of new dynamism in our bilateral political, economic and cultural relations. Excellent indicators of this development are the rapidly growing trade, the intensive exchange of visits, the increasing number of direct flight connections between more destinations of our countries as well the increasing number of port calls from Finland to Gdynia.

Therefore, I am very pleased to be able to speak here today, at the distinguished Centre for International Relations. My theme today is very much regional while keeping in mind the wider perspective of the European integration.

The Baltic Sea region belongs to the winners in the EU's big bang enlargement in 2004. Today particularly the Nordic EU countries are among the best performers in competitiveness, innovation and implementation of the EU Lisbon strategy. Poland and the three Baltic countries, thanks to their high economic growth in recent years, are examples of the most rapid catch-up in the EU where the divide in wealth and well-being will be gradually bridged between old and newer member states.

While Finland's Baltic Sea identity is strong and interlinked with our Nordic identity we recognize that Poland's main identity is culturally Central European but politically very much influenced by Poland's sensitive historical location between two big powers, Germany and Russia.

But there is one particular character which strongly supports Poland's Baltic Sea identity - and its connection with the Sea: Poland in its entirety belongs to the Baltic Sea catchment area. This means that all Polish rivers including the major ones like Wisła and Odra, having their start at Tatra Mountains end up in the Baltic Sea.

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The economic indicators for the Baltic Sea area look great but the state of the sea itself is much worse. This sea of ours is a shallow and cold area of brackish water which is almost cut off from the ocean. Everything that happens in its catchment area, especially human action, affects it. Over the past 50 years, the sea has become polluted and eutrophicated with the constantly multiplying discharges into the sea.

The Press Photo of the Year in Finland last year was a shot of a single sailboat winding its way through the Baltic Sea, leaving a blue trail in a mass of blue-green algae. This picture is a concrete indication of the alarming state of the Baltic Sea.

The worsening situation has been noticed in the littoral states of the Baltic Sea. Clear evidence of the shared concern emerged from the Cracow meeting of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) at the end of last year. All agreed that measures tougher than the EU directive are needed to keep the Baltic Sea alive. Theimplementation and commitment to the funding of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan is the key to restoring the good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment by 2021.

Eutrophication can be curbed if the nutrient loading from communities, agriculture, transport and industry is effectively reduced. Major progress has already been made in reducing the nutrient load, but a regeneration of the sea will only occur over a longer period. Despite much protective action, the levels of environmental toxins in the Baltic Sea are many times higher than in the oceans of the world.

Phosphorus is the limiting nutrient for the growth of blue-green algae. Therefore, reducing phosphorus emissions is of primary importance in order to combat the mass occurrences of the blue-green algae. This can be done effectively by the chemical phosphorus removal process at the wastewater treatment plants.

Poland has already invested a lot to fulfil the EU directive. Two private foundations from Finland and Sweden - the John Nurminen Foundation and the Baltic Sea 2020 - have joined forces to help Poland to meet the HELCOM criteria. They are preparing a pilot project with the City of Warsaw with the objective of removing 100 tons of phosphorus annually. If successful they intent to widen the project to other Polish cities with a target of removing 500 tons of phosphorus annually by the end of 2013. Similar project has been conducted already in St Petersburg. We can expect to see visible results already in a few years' time.

Funds will be sourced from the EU,  financial institutions, as well as from the private sector in Finland, Sweden and Poland.  With a longer perspective this project could eventually be conceived as a pilot phase of a nutrient trading scheme, covering the whole Baltic Sea region.

Finland is very pleased that Poland is committed to effective national measures aimed at protection of the Baltic Sea at highest level. I refer to the reply of Poland's President Mr Kaczyński to the joint New Year's letter of Finland's President Halonen and Prime Minister Vanhanen as well as to his very responsive statements on this issue during his state visit to Finland in April.

Finland has its homework still unfinished to further cut our emissions to the sea from the agriculture in particular. Our motivation will be strengthened when we note corresponding determination and concrete progress in the other littoral states.

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The sea connects lands and peoples. Safe and secure shipping is a vital part of this co-operation. More than 80% of Finland’s foreign trade is shipped across the Baltic Sea. Calls of ro-ro ships from Finnish ports to Gdynia have increased close to ten per week. They will probably increase even more after the transport corridor A1 from Gdynia/Gdansk to Slovakia has been upgraded to motorway standard for all its length thus opening a new trade route for Finland to Europe's future growth markets in Eastern Central as well as South-Eastern Europe.

The Baltic Sea is an increasingly important transport route also for Russia. A major part of Russia’s foreign trade is now shipped across the Baltic Sea, in particular oil and chemical products. In ten years the oil transports have grown from 20 million tonnes to 140 million tonnes in 2006. By 2015 the expected increase is up to 240 million tonnes per year.

As traffic increases, the risk of accidents grows. Thus, it is necessary to improve safety at sea. Creating a joint maritime picture of the entire Baltic Sea would give the coastal authorities an overall view of all shipping in the Baltic Sea and enable constant monitoring and guidance.  We could introduce compulsory piloting for oil and chemical tankers in the entire Baltic Sea. We could require ships to fulfil certain technical standards and ships’ crews to fulfil competence standards. Development of charts and navigation systems is always a good investment.

In order to prepare for possible accidents, rescue cooperation along the Baltic Sea should be further developed. There is a critical shortage of oil spill response vessels and materials all over the Baltic Sea region. We must seriously and openly consider alternative routes and means of transport of oil.

We have achieved some promising results already.  Under the Gulf of Finland Reporting System, GOFREP, ships entering the Gulf of Finland receive information on all other vessels in the area. It is jointly operated by Finland, Russia and Estonia since 2004 and has been very successful. Enlarging this system to cover the entire Baltic Sea would significantly increase the safety of shipping.

In addition by the rules of the International Maritime Organization IMO only double-hulled tankers are allowed in the Gulf of Finland. Single-hulled vessels will be completely banned after 2009. The IMO has granted the Baltic Sea the status of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area.

The Nord Stream gas pipeline being planned in the seabed from Russia to Greifswald in Germany has been met with mixed emotions in the Baltic Sea countries. Poland has been opposing the project. Finland views it as an element in multiplying energy corridors and networks between Russia and the EU. In principle this is positive and welcome - and it also adds to energy security in Europe and reflects the growing mutual interdependence between Russia and the EU. The pipeline in itself is a safe way of conveying gas, but we want — and indeed our legislation requires — that all environmental factors involved in the project will be carefully studied. When Finland decides on whether to allow the laying of the pipeline in the seabed of her exclusive economic zone, the decisions will be based primarily on environmental factors.

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The European Union is currently preparing a Baltic Sea Region Strategy. It is scheduled to be introduced in 2009 before Sweden takes over the EU Presidency. For Finland this strategy is of utmost importance. Our priorities are a clean Baltic Sea and an economically strong and prosperous Baltic Sea region.

The purpose of the EU's first internal regional strategy is to make the EU's present activities in the region more effective and also to increase the EU's visibility in Northern Europe; to clarify the division of labour and agendas between the EU-level and regional level; and to add more regional focus to various EU policy sectors. If the strategy could support a better interplay and networking between the region's EU member countries the influence and political weight of Northern Europe would enhance as a concomitant. The strategy must help the region to become a political actor in the EU, at least in those issues where interests coincide.

The Baltic Sea Region Strategy is primarily an internal EU matter, but in order to achieve tangible results we need to have co-operation with other countries too.

This is particularly true of Russia, which is a major player in the Baltic Sea region. In many sectors, such as the environment and maritime safety, we cannot talk of true cooperation if Russia is not involved. Of course, in this cooperation we expect a positive input from all, also Russia. The Northern Dimension provides the framework to cover the external aspects of the EU internal strategy as provided for in the European Council conclusions of last December.  The Northern Dimension is a joint policy of four equal partners, the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland. Partnerships under the Northern Dimension have produced good results, and these should be further developed and employed. The environmental partnership and social and health care partnership will soon be joined by a transport and logistics partnership.

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Putting things in a bigger picture I would like to recall what I already referred to earlier. Our region is a winner from the EU enlargement in 2004. It is also a winner from NATO enlargements in 1999 and 2004, from recent enlargement of the Schengen zone. It will also gain from the future enlargement, hopefully in not too distant future, of the euro zone. Our region will also directly benefit from the beginning of negotiations on a new partnership agreement between the EU and Russia. Russia's accession to the WTO will have positive implications to our region.

Finland would like to encourage Poland to reinforce her Baltic identity and to look more towards the North.  Not only in terms of the marine environment but also in terms of an attractive and innovative business environment. The northern voivodeships of Poland are frontrunners in this respect and we hope the central administration in Warsaw would follow.

Finland and Poland are partners of an extensive and close cooperation in all areas. I hope and trust that we can continue to improve our actions for the benefit of the Baltic Sea and the Baltic Sea region.