Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja: The future of the Baltic Sea region after EU enlargement

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja: The future of the Baltic Sea region after EU enlargement

The CBSS and the Northern Dimension of the European Union: The future of the Baltic Sea region after EU enlargement

Remarks by Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, at the Embassy of Finland, Stockholm

Over a period of a relatively few years, the Baltic Sea region has developed beyond the most optimistic expectations, but the region still possesses an abundance of untapped resources. That is why today’s joint endeavours and deepening cooperation are, to a large extent, influenced by what we hope to enjoy seeing in the future.

The Baltic Sea region is in many ways a microcosm of whence Europe has come and where it might be heading. More than that, the region can even be presented as a model for overcoming some of the most demanding challenges to European unification based on comprehensive security.

To begin, I would like to pinpoint some specific features of transformation in the Baltic Sea region. But I will exclude military security in the region from my remarks, even though the emergence of the Baltic Sea region from the cold war situation is obviously significant for the region itself and for European security as a whole.

First of all, the importance of region-wide and sub-regional, as well as local and bilateral cooperation, cannot be emphasized too much. Even before the bigger wheels of the EU and NATO started to turn and draw in the countries of the region, in pre-accession or accession modes, innovative solutions were reached locally around the Baltic Sea Rim.

There was a core in place. The traditional and established cooperation among the five Nordic countries, including Iceland, has served as an engine for extending assistance to the Baltic States over a range of sectors of their societies engaged in transition and pre-accession. Moreover, first as a group of "five-plus-three" and nowadays as a group of "eight", foreign and security policy cooperation has brought these neighbouring states together in an ever closer partnership.

As a regional body established ten years ago, the Council of the Baltic Sea States has joined these eight smaller countries with Russia, Poland and Germany, (with the participation of the European Commission), in practical cooperation on reforming and developing social and material infrastructures as well as in facing new security tasks.

Finland has recently assumed the Presidency of the CBSS. We intend to promote the whole broad agenda of stability, welfare and prosperity in the fields of the environment, energy, transport, the information society and education, as well as civic society and human security. Among the priorities are such diverse issues as combating organized crime and communicable diseases, border control, children at risk, supporting non-governmental organisations - especially in the field of social and health and labour market issues - in cooperation with social partners.

Regarding labour market issues, we will host - as part of the programme for the CBSS Presidency - a Northern Dimension Labour Market Forum in Helsinki next February. The main idea is to highlight visions and development trends linked to the labour market of the Northern Dimension area. Challenges such as population ageing inevitably influence our economies and labour markets. It would be of crucial importance to find common solutions in order to secure the availability of labour in the Baltic Sea States. Free movement of workers within an enlarged EU will also be relevant in this connection as well as migration within and from outside the Baltic Sea States.

In this context the free movement of labour has been the issue that has given most cause for doubts concerning EU enlargement in Finland and elsewhere. Finland is satisfied with the solution, based on the proposal of the European Commission, to have a transitional period of two to seven years. My assessment is that a transitional period of two years could be enough and that there is no need to prolong the restrictions. It is, however, necessary, especially for the acceptability of enlargement, to have the option of a longer transitional period in case problems occur. It is essential that in the future too EU Member States will apply their own legislation and generally binding collective labour agreements. If any shortcomings were to be found in the monitoring process, as has been suspected, it is up to them to correct the situation before enlargement.

It is also worth noting that the Nordic social partners in particular have the kind of experience and knowledge that we can usefully make available for all the Baltic Sea States to help them strengthen the social dimension. That would help to alleviate any suspicion that a strong and well organized labour market partners and practices would impede competitiveness, when it should instead be recognized as an asset that would strengthen it.

While dealing with its practical work, the CBSS, as a political network and governmental-level structure, has promoted the Baltic Sea region as a focus of identity that has long historical roots. This renaissance of awareness has become a concrete reality through numerous transnational networks that have flourished since the end of the unnatural divisions in the region. Such connections are essential for creating and strengthening civic societies and for overcoming socio-economic fault-lines.

As complementary and mutually reinforcing institutions, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council bring forth explicitly northern perspectives in a broader European context. Due to its geographic and geoeconomic position, Russia is a key partner to the Nordic countries in these bodies. The two councils also have a link with the United States, which displays an active interest towards Baltic Sea cooperation, in particular through its special relationship with the Baltic States.

As Chair of the Arctic Council, Finland made a notable effort to make the Arctic regional voice heard in global forums on sustainable development. This is an important undertaking for any regional groupings, as they can contribute to the broader tasks of European and global governance through their particular concerns and perspectives.

Groundwork for EU enlargement and the Northern Dimension

The aforementioned regional institutions do not wield large resources of their own but they have created avenues for cooperation and joint expertise that can be put to further use as the European Union moves forward more actively as a leading player in regional development.

In effect, regional and sub-regional cooperation around the Baltic Rim has laid the groundwork for a future in which attention will be increasingly focused on relations between the EU and Russia.

As an example of such synergy, cross-border cooperation with adjacent regions of Russia initiated by the parties directly involved - such as Finland and Russia - has been successfully supported by common EC funds for years already. Even after the next enlargement of the European Union, assistance and joint efforts in regional co-operation will maintain their significance.

But Finland’s vision for regional cooperation extends beyond that. It is guided by the realization that the relationship between the European Union and Russia will determine the future of not only our own region but of Europe as a whole. A mutually productive relationship between an enlarged Union and Russia is the core ambition in Finland's initiative for the Northern Dimension, presented five years ago.

The Northern Dimension is now an agreed common policy with a plan of action to guide and facilitate its implementation. Recognizing the interdependence between the enlarging Union and Russia, it addresses cross-border challenges and builds on the combined potential of Russia and the EU. The EU-Russian energy dialogue aims to improve the regulatory framework for investments, which should be financed mainly from private sources and international financial institutions.

The Northern Dimension concept has other components as well. In fact, the immediate concrete achievements will lie in the fields of the marine environment, nuclear safety, the information society and public health. As the policy of the Northern Dimension is implemented and developed further, the European Commission will undoubtedly benefit from the expertise of regional institutions.

EU-Russian relations

Russia as a whole is a factor that makes the Baltic Sea region profoundly interesting to all who follow and assess ongoing change in Europe. It is in this region that Russia and the European Union meet geographically, today at the Finnish-Russian border, and soon at a longer boundary following the accession of the Baltic States and Poland to the Union. The Baltic Sea will then resemble a lake bordered by the EU and Russia.

The interface between the two will have immediate implications for the need and responsibility to collaborate in the management of their common border. Specifically, the tasks include tackling serious problems such as organized crime, human trafficking, drug smuggling and international terrorism.

The Finnish authorities responsible for border management - the Border Guard, customs and police officers - have created a system of co-operation with their Russian counterparts which other countries in our region can use as a model. Co-operation based on trilateral experience has been established for the whole Baltic Sea region by the authorities responsible for border management and surveillance in Finland, Russia and Estonia. The Finnish view, based on our experience and assessment, is that smooth and effective border control does function under the Schengen regulations.

Going beyond geography into the spheres of geoeconomics and geopolitics, the involvement of the Northern Dimension as part of the common EU strategy towards Russia and the process of enlargement of the EU into the Baltic Sea region have been mutual learning processes as well as concrete indications for both the Union and Russia of what their future relationship will entail.

It has been important for Russia to see the comprehensive and complex nature of the Union, not only as an economic force but also as an international actor with political and security goals and with the instruments to pursue those goals.

In the context of the accession of the Baltic States to the Union, Russia has not only adjusted to their forthcoming new legal and political status but has also come to envisage the economic and other benefits that EU membership for its neighbours will ensue for itself. This experience will demonstrate that the spread of integration promotes stability in the core relationship of European security.

All in all, developments arising from the deepening of the EU's policy towards Russia in the north, and the Union’s enlargement to Russia’s borders, point to a relationship that will contain plenty of work and practical problems but will be, at the same time, one in which both partners have a politically positive approach and are aware of the opportunities that lie ahead.

Remaining Russo-Baltic issues and Kaliningrad

The long-drawn-out process of addressing and resolving the issues of borders and minorities between Russia and each of the Baltic States is yet to be concluded in completely normalized neighbourly relationships. But we have long since passed the situation in which Russo-Baltic relations were viewed as potential conflicts that could destabilize the region.

Russia has not been willing to proceed to the ratification of border treaties with the Baltic States but this is not an issue that would affect their accession to the European Union. Likewise, the status of Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia is in line with the European (OSCE) standards, although having such large numbers of stateless persons will require more efforts to integrate those communities and expand citizenship.

The remaining political issue which has been linked to EU enlargement in the region, namely the arrangement of transit to and from Kaliningrad through EU territory, has been more than a mere focus of attention. It has at times been publicised as a matter of prestige between Russia and the European Commission. It is easy to understand Russian sensitivity towards its citizens' access to its own territory. On the other hand, the Schengen convention is an essential element of EU integration that must be protected in the interest of all parties.

Fortunately, a basis for the elaboration of a pragmatic solution to the transit issue has now been established. The main point is to look forward and see Kaliningrad as both a challenge and an opportunity for cooperation between the enlarged Union and Russia. Ways need to be found that will transform the enclave into a model of European cooperation, thus helping to resolve its social and economic problems.

(It was the Northern Dimension that made the EU Commission and the Union as a whole engage in the Kaliningrad issue as an EU-level challenge.)

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