Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja: "Northern Dimension - Human Dimension?" at the third Baltic Sea NGO Forum

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja: "Northern Dimension - Human Dimension?" at the third Baltic Sea NGO Forum

Keynote address by
Mr. Erkki Tuomioja,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
of Finland

Northern Dimension - Human Dimension?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

An active civil society is a necessary requirement for further democratic development in the region of the Baltic Sea States. One of our priorities during Finland's Presidency in the CBSS has been to support the work of the non-governmental organizations. By stimulating dialogue between the governments and the civil society this forum plays an important part in supporting this priority. It is a pleasure for me to be able to address this III Baltic Sea NGO Forum today.

Governance and participation

Policy-making is essential in achieving sustainable human development. At a core of policy-making is meaningful participation of a country’s inhabitants in public affairs, permitting them to be genuine decision-makers in the development process. A key finding of the UNDP Regional Human Development Report is that the willingness of citizens to participate in the country’s governance is much greater than their actual participation would indicate. The main obstacle is people’s doubt as to the real impact they can have on the decision-making process. Overcoming the isolation of citizens and creating conditions for their effective interaction with the government is necessary to achieve consensual governance and hence sustainable development.

The CBSS has, since its foundation, focused on supporting democratic organizations and safeguarding human and civil rights in the region. The Working Group on Democratic Institutions held a major seminar on local administrations this spring. The CBSS Commissioner on Democratic Development, Ms Helle Degn, who will speak at today's plenary session, is our regional watchdog who works to ensure that human rights and civil liberties will be protected and strengthened and that democartic institutions function well in our member states.

For the citizens of all the CBSS countries a vibrant NGO community can provide an important channel to express their interests through an active participation in the NGO activities. By acting as intermediaries between the the society and decision-makers NGOs can also lower the threshold for people to become actively involved with issues relevant to their lives. If needed the civil society's role is also to hold the decision makers accountable for the given promises. At best the NGOs function as agents of democratic change by participating in a collective decision-making to determine the future policy priorities.

Economic development and people participation

Another very important area in which the CBSS has engaged its efforts is economic development. Our region has the potential to become one of the most dynamic growth areas of Europe. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that all of the conditions for sustained growth are met. We also need to make sure that the opportunities created by the enlargement of the EU will be realized fully. To this end, a new Northern Dimension Action Plan for the years 2004-06 will hopefully provide a road map for all the players in our region as how to co-operate effectively to ensure that the new borders of the EU unite the region - players such as the European Commission, the member states, partner countries, regional bodies and local governments, civil society, business and NGO communities.

Global markets, global technology, global ideas and global solidarity can enrich the lives of people in the Baltic Sea Region. However, there is no automatic link between economic growth and human development. But when these links are forged with policy and determination, they can be mutually reinforcing and economic growth will effectively and rapidly improve human development. The challenge is to ensure that the benefits are shared equitably and that the increasing interdependence caused by the globalization works for people—not just for profits.

Every citizen including those in the most vulnerable positions across the Baltic Sea Region should be able to benefit from the economic growth. It is therefore essential that the new Northern Dimension Action Plan will not only contribute towards economic growth but also towards reducing poverty. To this end labour force and labour market issues should be given due emphasis in the new Action Plan and be treated as a cross-cutting theme with relevance to several sectors in society. Concerted action to overcome the serious social and health problems in the region can be addressed through the Partnership in Public Health and Social Wellbeing.

Gender and participation

True democracy is a process of enlargeing choises for all people, not just for one part of society. Such a process becomes unjust and discriminatory if most women are excluded from its benefits. The continuing exclusion of women from many economic and political opportunities is a continuing hindrance of progress in the region. There is not one single country in the world that has reached the goal of gender equality. For too long, it was assumed that economic growth was a process that lifts all boats, that its benefits tricled down to all and that it was gender-neutral in its impact. Experience has taught us otherwise. I should like to emphasize that moving towards gender equality is not a technocratic goal - it is a political and social process. It requires a new way of thinking in which the stereotyping of women and men gives way to a new philosophy that regards all people, irrespective of sex, as essential agents of change.

CBSS has tried to work as such an agent by proposing the Northern Dimension Action Plan 2004-06 to be gender mainstreamed so that both women and men are equal participants and beneficiaries in its programmes.

Environment and participation

Today's needs can not be met by sacrificing the possibilities of the future
generations. The concept of sustainable development has established
itself also in the Baltic Sea region. Yet much needs to be done to integrate the environmental, social, economic and cultural dimensions of sustainable development into the sector policies of the Baltic States. The Baltic 21 process is an important tool in meeting this goal where the NGOs have an active role to play. Further development of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership and making it operational is a key priority of the new Northern Dimension Action Plan.

The Baltic Sea is our common and shared sea. When tackling environmental problems of the heavily polluted sea, co-operation is an essential tool. However, not only co-operation between governments but also with and between the non-governmental bodies. In this context I would like to mention the increased algae-growth during the past warm summers, which has affected our lives all around the Baltic Sea. This has awaken us to realize the severe state of the sea and to urge to unite the fronts of government, non-government as well as citizenry level.

NGOs and authorities

In order to be successful partnerships need to be based on shared responsibilities and on mutual respect between all the parties. Governments should practise inclusiveness and responsiveness. In return civil society must interact with the rest of the society in a constructive manner. The credibility that thousands of NGOs have created over many years must not be lost because of action by groups whose real aims are not related to enhancing the global or regional agenda, but rather to their own self-promotion. Participation of the civil society is not only a matter of involvement in promoting democratic governance but also a matter of participation in the social integration and in the fight against social exclusion. It is also important in fighting corruption.

Co-operation between governments and non-governmental organizations should be based on mutual understanding and respect. In the Baltic Sea Region obvious theme covered by such co-operation could be the promotion of human rights including social and cultural rights. This Forum will make an important contribution towards exploring new areas of co-operation between governments and NGOs in the Baltic Sea Region. I am looking forward to the results.

I would like to conclude by quoting Ms. Jane Addams, an American who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She was a true fighter for equality, peace and civil rights in the USA at the beginning of the 20th century. On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for her hard work to get the USA government to agree on the founding of the League of Nations she said: "Just because there are so few of us that are working towards a more just world we must unite in our efforts to do so." Dear friends, you are doing just that. I wish you a successful and forward-looking conference.