Meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Porto, 6-7 December 2002: Contribution of the Council of the Baltic Sea States

Meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Porto, 6-7 December 2002: Contribution of the Council of the Baltic Sea States

The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) is grateful for the opportunity to present to the Ministerial Council meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) a review of its activities as a contribution to security and cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region and Northern Europe.

The CBSS has enhanced stability and security through a regional political dialogue on important cooperation issues. These have included:

  • Assistance to new democratic institutions,
  • Economic cooperation,
  • Protection of the environment and energy cooperation,
  • Humanitarian and health issues, incl. children at risk,
  • Organized crime,
  • Cooperation in the field of culture and education (incl. university reform)

    The CBSS is by now one of the oldest and most firmly established subregional organisations in Europe, having been founded just over a decade ago by the foreign ministers of the countries of the Baltic Sea region. Notably, the founders of the CBSS deliberately left out issues of “hard security”, that is to say military questions, from the regional cooperation agenda. On the other hand, issues of “soft security” have occupied a prominent place on the CBSS agenda, including issues such as nuclear and radiation safety and civil security, emergency preparedness, the fight against organized crime and control of communicable diseases.

    Since 1996, the biennial summits of the heads of government of the Baltic Sea region have regularly focused their attention on issues of “soft security” and have taken the initiative to set up a special high level task force on co-ordinating the fight against organized crime. Today, in the work of the task force, the fight against terrorism has also been given due attention.

    In 1994, two years after the founding of the CBSS, the ministers of foreign affairs decided to create the institution of a Commissioner on Democratic Development who would be responsible for monitoring the situation in member-states with regard to the protection of human and civil rights, including the rights of minorities. The Commissioner’s mandate has focused on supporting the building and strengthening of democratic institutions, such as the Ombudsman, and has been instrumental in drawing attention to transnational issues threatening these same rights and institutions, e.g. the growing problem of trafficking in human beings. The Commissioner 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.

    The CBSS, from its inception, has been a tool used to build trust and understanding between countries with very different recent political histories and levels of economic development. The cold-war division of Europe ran right through the middle of the Baltic Sea for almost half a century. We have witnessed a remarkable transformation of the region, thanks partly to the efforts of the CBSS to act as a subregional motor for accelerating the process of European integration.

    Baltic Sea cooperation involves a great number of players: parliamentarians, regional authorities, cities, businesses and their respective organizations all make their specific contributions. In the field of ecology and sustainable development we have complementary structures linking government co-operation and NGO activities. NGOs have played a prominent role in developing the system of cooperative networks around the Baltic Sea in other sectors as well. Baltic Sea cooperation as a whole is very much inspired by this kind of activity. This bottom-up characteristic is one of its major assets.

    The CBSS recognizes the key role of the OSCE in the field of security and confidence-building in all regions of Europe. Nevertheless, the achievements of regional co-operation present in the Baltic Sea area today can serve as a model of how an important European region has successfully removed the lines that had divided the continent for so long.

    As a regional group with a specific potential, the CBSS can contribute to the overall aim of stability and security in Europe and reinforce the endeavours of the OSCE.

    At the invitation of the Secretary General of the OSCE, the CBSS was present in Vienna on 6 September 2002, at the OSCE Meeting of Subregional Organizations and Initiatives on Preventing and Combating Terrorism.

    The Finnish presidency of the CBSS is ready to exchange experiences, compare “best practices” and develop co-operation in relevant fields among which preventing and combating the spread of terrorism in Europe and the world is no doubt one of the most timely fields of activity.

    Helsinki, 2002-12-05