Intervention by Mr Tauno Pesola, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the CBSS at the opening plenary of BSSSC Conference, Lillehammer, 25 October 2002

Intervention by Mr Tauno Pesola, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the CBSS at the opening plenary of BSSSC Conference, Lillehammer, 25 October 2002

Venue: The the opening plenary of 10th annual BSSSC Conference, Lillehammer, 25 October 2002

Mr Tauno Pesola,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland,
Chairman of the CBSS (Committee of Senior Officials of the Council of the Baltic Sea States)

Mr Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by congratulating the BSSSC as it is about to start its second decade of activity. I am honoured to be speaking here as the representative of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). We can be proud of the history of close and fruitful co-operation between our organisations during the first decade. I look forward to it continuing well into the next.

The original goals of the BSSSC, set at Stavanger in 1993, are still valid today. What were those goals? First, to help to build the Baltic Sea Region into a model European region. Looking back at what has been achieved, we have come a long way since Stavanger in actually realizing this lofty goal. The BSSSC has, together with the CBSS and other partners in the region, managed to transform the Baltic Sea area from a blind-alley of the cold war into a model for subregional co-operation in Europe.

Today, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, a score of subregional co-operation organisations and initiatives have come together from all corners of Europe to compare notes and exchange "best practices". The fact is, our decade of long experience in the Baltic Sea Region is seen by both the Council of Europe and younger subregional organisations, especially from the southeastern part of Europe, as a model to emulate. Let us be proud of that fact, but let us also remember this gives us a new responsibility and a new and deeper meaning to our work which goes beyond our immediate region.

Enough of past glory. The theme of this year’s BSSSC conference is "Regions in Partnership for the Future". The future belongs to youth, and I welcome the participation of so many young people at this conference, thanks to the initiative of our hosts. So, the question we should ask ourselves is: what kind of region do we want in the future - what are we going to leave for our youth, the next generation?

The second goal of the BSSSC, enunciated in Stavanger, was to "participate actively in the transformation processes in Europe which aim at creating stable foundations of peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity". Let me submit to you that the pending enlargement of the European Union and NATO in our region testify to the fact that this goal too is much closer to being achieved. But as history has too often demonstrated, there is no reason to take peace, freedom and democracy for granted. The work of the BSSSC and its members to strengthen democracy at the local level, at the grass roots, has been, and will continue to be, an essential part of the wider process of securing the foundations for a Europe "whole and free". I think you will all agree with me that this is the basic precondition for creating the kind of region we want for our future, our young people.

The CBSS has, since its foundation, focused on supporting democratic institutions and safeguarding human and civil rights in the region. The Working Group on Democratic Institutions, currently chaired by Germany, is planning to hold a major seminar on local administrations in the spring of 2003. 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 democratic institutions function well in all of our member states.

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 will still have a lot of work to do to ensure that all of the conditions for sustained growth are met. We need also to make sure that the opportunities created by the next enlargement of the EU will be realized fully. To this end, the adoption in Luxembourg a few days ago of the guidelines for a new Northern Dimension Action Plan provides a road map to show all the players in our region 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.

The decision to hold the next BSSSC annual conference in St. Petersburg, marking the 10th anniversary of your organisation and the 300th anniversary of the city, will create a golden opportunity to review how we have managed the process leading up to the eve of the enlargement.

We are your partners in this process. Later today, Mr Brunon Synak will host, and I will chair, a 2nd "co-ordination meeting" of heads of the various Baltic Sea regional organisations. The main topic we will be discussing is how to unite our voices effectively to ensure that our goals are adequately reflected in the new Northern Dimension Action Plan. Our Scottish friend at the European Commission, Mr Alistair MacDonald, warned us at the BSSSC seminar on the Northern Dimension against presenting wish lists for projects that someone else should finance. Instead, he paraphrased John F. Kennedy by stating: "Don’t ask what the Northern Dimension can do for you, ask what you can do for the Northern Dimension". I think that this is already our attitude in this region. We are used to relying on ourselves but also ready to co-operate with our neighbours in a mutually beneficial way. The EU is providing us an opening to have real influence - let us take the opportunity and use it in a constructive way.

Mr Chairman,

Allow me, by way of conclusion, to turn directly, under the theme of this conference, to the question of youth co-operation and the CBSS. The first concrete project launched on the initiative of the CBSS in March 1993 was the EuroFaculty project. This project was designed to upgrade the curricula and teaching methods in three key areas of higher education at the universities of Tartu, Riga and Vilnius. This model has been successful and is now being emulated in a pilot project at Kaliningrad State University. Pending the success of the Kaliningrad project, the model could well be used to reform the whole system of higher education in Russia.

Starting in Visby in 1998, the CBSS ministers with responsibility for youth questions have met on a biennial basis to discuss the situation of youth in our region. In 1998, a plan of action was adopted for co-operation in the field of youth affairs. In 2000, at Lübeck, a Baltic Sea Youth Secretariat was set up to co-ordinate youth activities in the region. Last June, the ministers met for the third time with the aim of building a "knowledge society" in the region.

As we all know, and are too often reminded in the modern world, youth means not only energy and new impulses but also vulnerability. The co-operation within the CBSS on “Children at Risk” started by tackling the problem of transnational sexual exploitation of children in our region. This endeavour is now broadening its mandate to deal with such problems as homelessness, street children, illegal migration and other poverty-related problems which rob youth of a normal life.

I could also mention, in this context, the work of the task forces set up by our heads of government - to combat organized crime and to control the spread of communicable diseases. Trafficking in human beings and the spread of HIV/AIDS in our region is striking at our youth especially hard. The role of youth organisations and NGOs in fighting these plagues cannot be overestimated.

In May 2003, in Turku, the NGOs of the Baltic Sea Region will meet for the third CBSS NGO Forum. Over 300 representatives of NGOs are expected to attend. As we all know, the backbone of the NGO movement is youth participation. I hope also to see many of you there.

Thank you for your attention.

pohjoinen ulottuvuus