Ambassador Tauno Pesola, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, 21 Senior Officials Group meeting, Turku 24-25 April

Ambassador Tauno Pesola, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, 21 Senior Officials Group meeting, Turku 24-25 April

The Baltic 21 Senior Officials Group meeting
(Turku, Finland, 24-25 April, 2003)

Introductory remarks by Ambassador Tauno Pesola,
Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO)
of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Colleagues,

First, I would like to thank the organisers of this meeting for inviting the Finnish Presidency of the CBSS to participate and offer some general introductory remarks on Baltic Sea co-operation today.

Baltic 21 is an endeavour in our regional co-operation which has gained even global visibility. I will touch upon issues related to sustainable development only to a minor extent, as I feel that the expertise on those issues is here in the audience.

In my presentation I will first discuss some basic features of today's intergovernmental co-operation, for example the role of Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Heads of Government. Thereafter, I will make some remarks on our regional co-operation as it relates to co-operation with and within the European Union. And last but not least, I will comment on future focal points of regional co-operation.

1. Today, in our region we are faced with both opportunities and challenges. Challenges, security threats are those "normal to our international circumstances" such as organised crime, communicable diseases and environmental hazards, but not military ones. (There is still some tension related to the Russian-speaking populations in the Baltic States. According to the EU assessment this issue is already in order. Future development will be guided within the framework of EU membership.) Among the opportunities I would like to mention our work for information society in the framework of the Northern eDimension Action Plan (NeDAP) and in addition to this co-operation in energy, trade and education issues.

2. Intergovernmental co-operation as an overall function based on the documents establishing the CBSS, Copenhagen, March 1992. Already in those documents comprehensive co-operation was foreseen (not only on issues within the competence of MFAs).

3. But the real boost was given when Heads of Government stepped onto the stage (for first time in Visby, in May 1996). They outlined co-operation in a very broad sense (from democratic development, economic co-operation, educational and cultural issues to the environment and sustainable development). They also took the initiative to establish Baltic 21.

4. As to the role of Foreign Ministers, the Heads of Government took a stance at their meeting in Kolding, in April 2000. Quote: "They emphasise the significance of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and other regional fora in contributing to increased understanding, security and growth. They also note the contributions by recent Ministerial meetings in the areas of labour-market policy, youth, children at risk, culture, energy, trade and economic co-operation, and education, as well as the continued progress in the co-operation to fight organised crime. They are committed to intensify regional and sub-regional co-operation and ask the Council of the Baltic Sea States to follow up their meetings." unquote

5. From the very beginning, our regional co-operation utilised the participation of the European Commission. But this participation doesn't not have any clear legal status in the EU context. The Commission is participating according to their competence, which I feel is enough in itself.

Then came the Northern Dimension. This was a new concept, different from traditional regional co-operation. The idea behind it was to identify and define areas with a clear European content, both opportunities and challenges. It was evident from the very beginning that European interest would be raised on the subject of energy (resources in North-Western Russia). It was also evident that environmental risks were an issue for the whole of the European Union.

6. Today, we have a mixed approach to issues, either in the regional context or from the perspective of the European Union. From our point of view, it is not a matter of primary importance whether an endeavour is to be defined as a regional or Northern Dimension one. Thus, today a Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership has been established focusing both on the nuclear waste in the north and pollution in the Baltic Sea (St Petersburg waste water treatment). We are currently working on a partnership in public health and social wellbeing. In addition, there are ongoing activities to combat organised crime and to control infectious diseases. We have also established a major endeavour on the opportunities side, namely the Northern eDimension Action Plan, NeDAP (for the development of the information society).

7. A major characteristic of our regional co-operation today is the huge variety of actors involved. In addition to intergovernmental co-operation, we have activities on the regional and local level, activities of non-governmental organisations and inside the business community. We can say that the situation in our region is characterised by normal international co-operation. This great variety of actors is, as far as I can see, a natural characteristic of work related to sustainable development. Also in the NeDAP work we have partners outside the government structures.

8. What of the future of Baltic Sea co-operation? As to the basic ideas behind this co-operation we could name two: First, to assist the Baltic States (and Poland) to establish sound, modern, civil societies and take their places within European structures and, second, the involvement of the Russian Federation in European co-operation. In the latter context, developments in the Baltic States and Poland have been entirely satisfactory. As to Russia's development, there are positive signs but also something to be worried about. We have been talking about an economic fault line on the Finnish - Russian, in other words the EU- Russian, border. Now, a normative fault line is emerging.

9. As to Baltic 21, I would like to recall the decision by the CBSS Ministerial in Nyborg 1998. Quote "The Council requested the Senior Officials Group to report at regular intervals to appropriate bodies of Baltic Sea co-operation, including environment ministers, ministerial sessions of the CBSS and Heads of Government meetings. In particular ministers expressed the view that the implementation of Baltic 21 should be examined, when ministers of the environment meet, in relation to other Baltic Sea regional activities directly connected to the scope of Baltic 21, such as the HELCOM review, IBSFC, VASAB and the EU dimension." unquote

Mr Chairman,

10. The role of regional co-operation in today's Europe has been intensively discussed in the CBSS. We may assume that in the future too the various directions or dimensions of Europe and the European Union will have characteristics of their own. There will be a need to define regional priorities. There will also be an opportunity for regional actors to play a part in the implementation of agreed endeavours.

11. There has also been discussion of overlapping in the work of various regional bodies up in northern Europe. All these bodies have a background of their own, their own justification. But of course we could and should try, on every possible occasion, to coordinate our efforts, even though the will to coordinate very often exceeds the will to be coordinated.

12. As to the Finnish CBSS Presidency priorities I should make some sales promotion for the NGO Forum which will take place here in Turku in a couple of weeks time. But as I see this issue is to be discussed under another agenda point I will not go into details here.

Thank you for your attention.