Minister Vilén: Regional Cooperation in the Baltic and the Mediterranean, conference in Barcelona, 28 Febr - 1 March

Address by Mr Jari Vilén,
Minister for Foreign Trade of Finland
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Venue: Conference in Barcelona, 28 February–1 March 2002: Regional Cooperation in the Baltic and the Mediterranean

"The Northern and Southern Dimensions for the Policies of the European Union"

It gives me a great pleasure to address this Conference on ´Regional cooperation in the Baltic and the Mediterranean´ in Spain, the country currently holding the rotating Presidency of the European Union. I would like to thank the organisers, and especially the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, for arranging this conference and inviting me as one of the speakers.

I believe that this occasion, in bringing together the EU’s southern and northern flanks, will enhance understanding between the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea areas. We both have our own identity and our own history, which are part of the common history of Europe. As a representative of the northern region, I will briefly comment on some of the developments within the Baltic Sea region.

Changes in the Baltic Sea Region and the Enlargement of the EU

Since the end of the Cold War era, the Baltic Sea region has become a scene of growing international cooperation. This is only natural considering the constraints imposed over half a century. There are some fundamental premises that did not change with the end of the cold war. One is that the Baltic Sea region’s development is an integral part of the security and stability and the economic structures of Europe as a whole. The Baltic Sea region is not only confined to the shores of the Baltic Sea.

The Baltic Sea region is undergoing a deep transformation process: the enlargement of the EU and NATO and the integration of Russia into the European cooperation. This is happening through direct high-level discussions on, i.e., a Common Economic Space, through PCA (Partnership and Cooperation Programme), as well as within the framework of the Northern Dimension. During the past decade the Baltic Sea region has shown an enormous potential for cooperation and actualised the potential into well functioning structures.

In order to establish new contacts after the cold war the Baltic Sea States created a structure for their cooperation in 1992 - the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). The CBSS is based on a joint declaration between the Nordic countries, Germany, Poland, the Baltic States, the Russian Federation and the European Commission. A common feeling in the region is that the CBSS has provided a constructive cooperation forum. The meeting of the CBSS Foreign Ministers in Kaliningrad next week will mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Council.

When Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, the development of the Baltic Sea region entered a new phase. The significance of the European Union in the development of the region grew considerably. From the outset, Germany and Denmark had represented the EU perspective within the Council and the European Commission had participated in its work. In the latter half of the 1990s, the EU assistance and support programmes started to govern the ideas on development in the region.

Two processes have defined the main course of cooperation in the Baltic Sea region since then. They are Estonia’s, Latvia’s, Lithuania’s and Poland’s EU membership negotiations and the Union’s active Russia policy. The EU committed itself to becoming the locomotive of development in the region. The start of membership talks with the Baltic States strengthened their international position. Russia began to show interest in the partnership with the EU and related support programmes that it offered. The thought of interdependence gave a stimulus to policy planning. It gained impetus when the whole EU with its resources became involved. On Finland’s initiative, the Northern Dimension for the policies of the Union was established in 1999, crystallising the new situation. It was equally important to ensure the commitment of the entire Union and direct cooperation in the area, mainly on the Union’s terms.

It enhanced the firm belief that this trend of development would set the political problems between the Baltic States and Russia in their proper dimensions. Integration would take precedence. When the Baltic States become members of the EU, the advantages that Russia stands to gain from its cooperation with the EU will outstrip its reservations towards them. The border between Finland and Russia is also the border between the EU and Russia.

With enlargement the whole northwest Russia will become a neighbouring region to the EU. The EU enlargement in the Baltic Sea region will bring Russia and EU closer together and increase interaction in every sector and on every level. In the future, the importance of the EU-Russia relationship will only grow. The implementation of the European Union’s common strategy on Russia has been the main instrument in the framework provided by the PCA. The Northern Dimension of the external and cross-border policies of the Union caters heavily to the EU-Russia relations among others.

Kaliningrad is one of the central questions in the enlargement of the EU and in the Baltic Sea cooperation. In principle, the enlargement will affect all of Russia, but especially those Russian regions bordering the new Union. Kaliningrad with its central geographic location at the Baltic Sea region, soon in the center of the Single European Market, is particularly well placed to benefit as a whole from the enlargement. I am pleased that Spain, in its work-plan to implement the EU Russia strategy, has responded so well to the need to enhance the discussions on the upcoming enclave inside the Union.

Cooperation within the EU - Advancing the Common Goals

The real value of integration is not in putting up new barriers or creating exclusionary clubs but responding together to common problems. During its six years of EU membership Finland has learned that the best way to defend national interests is to look for the common good and to support the efforts to make the EU stronger both internally and in its external policies. The EU has a wide range of options for external action, which is one of its strengths. It is important that the EU can agree on and implement its policies coherently and efficiently.

During the first year of the Finnish EU membership, in 1995, the Spanish Presidency launched the Barcelona Process on the Mediterranean cooperation. Finland expressed its support for that undertaking. In 1997, on the Finnish initiative, the first Sectoral Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Environment took place in Helsinki. We believe that active participation and commitment of all partners is needed to advance the common goals of the EU. The national interests must be seen in a comprehensive way.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is obviously of crucial importance to the EU. This is acknowledged and appreciated in Finland. I would like to emphasize that the external relations of the EU must concentrate equally on all adjacent areas. Thus, I cannot stress enough that we do not look upon the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Northern Dimension as mutually antagonistic policies, quite the contrary. Finland is not directly involved in all aspects of the Barcelona Process, but it is fully committed to advancing the process.

Finland sees a clear need to reinforce the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and we welcome the Spanish initiative concerning the enhancement of financial instruments in the Mediterranean region. The discussion is currently underway in the EU fora. I expect us to find a good solution in support of the Spanish initiative.

The Northern Dimension

I am not going to enter into a detailed analysis of the Northern Dimension, because you will be given a presentation on the topic in a short while. However, I cannot avoid the subject altogether as it is an integral part of the external relations of the EU, an essential concept in the Baltic Sea cooperation and one of the central elements in the Finnish foreign policy.

The Northern Dimension policy has given impetus to new strategic thinking not only among governments, but also at regional and sub-regional level, within NGOs, private business and other networks. One of the main ideas of the Northern Dimension is interdependence. It is the formula for cooperation between Russia and an enlarged Union. Also the Spanish Presidency has placed the cooperation with Russia as one of the priorities on the agenda of its Presidency.

I would, particularly, like to mention the new NDEP (Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership). This partnership, developed by the EBRD and NIB (Nordic Investment Bank), is an innovative structure which offers an opportunity to work on major environmental projects with the involvement of donor countries, the EU Commission as well as the international financial institutions, including the EIB. Our hope is that the NDEP will turn the Northern Dimension policies into concrete action and projects. Enhancing the interoperability of the EU’s financial instruments would also facilitate cooperation in the border areas between the enlarging EU and Russia.

Finland is committed to participate fully in the NDEP. The participation of the other EU Member States and other countries, from the South and North, is more than welcomed. The pledging conference will hopefully be organized during spring this year in Brussels. This mechanism, and cooperation between countries and financial institutions, could possibly serve as a model for the cooperation also in other fields. - Serious problems concerning the state of the environment are common both to the states around the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea. In addition to environmental problems, we are all fighting against terrorism, drugs, illegal immigration, disease, and crime, among other issues. There is room for increased cooperation in many fields, and at different levels.

One sector where the Northern Dimension has taken considerable steps forward is the information and communication technology. The IT-ministers of the Baltic Sea region adopted in Riga last September an action plan for the Northern eDimension (NeDAP). I am convinced that the NeDAP will serve as a tool for enhancing the development in the Baltic Sea region. The concrete implementation of the seven action lines has already started. This plan is part of the broader eEurope, and there are similar projects going on in the Mediterranean area.

In addition to the ITC-sector, the Northern Dimension also offers important added value to the ongoing cooperation in the transport sector. Large areas of Northern Europe are characterised by long distances, and special conditions, which influence the nature of the transport infrastructure and, consequently, the structure of trade. It is expected that the transport volumes continue to increase steadily. Finland has proposed a project “Motorway of the Baltic Sea” to improve the transport route to Central Europe. This is part of the EU’s White Paper on the European Transport Policy for 2010. - As a detail I could mention that Finland’s transports through the Baltic Sea, including all EU and non-EU countries, is equivalent to 12 400 lorries a day. This is quite comparable to the volume of more than 15 000 heavy goods vehicles across the Pyrenees.

In addition to improving the sea transportation between the Baltic Sea region and Central Europe, there are plans to develop the road transport in corridor I (Via Baltica) and IA (Via Hanseatica). There are also projects to improve the railroad connections between Finland and Russia, as well as between other EU countries, Poland and the Baltic states.

Important Role of the Regional Councils

The regional councils - the CBSS, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Artic Council - can offer their expertise for use of the EU. They can also play an important role in the work with the Northern Dimension, and identify priorities and projects. Finland will take over the presidency of the CBSS next summer, after Russia, and is ready to advance the cooperation in a constructive manner.

Arctic circumpolar cooperation and the geographically more limited Barents cooperation together form the northernmost outreach of the EU. The Arctic Council has a specific responsibility to bring arctic circumpolar concerns to international fora. At the moment Finland is the chair of the Arctic Council. Finland has encouraged the Commission to seek closer ties with the Arctic Council, and possibly the status of a permanent observer.

Working for the Common Goals in the North and South

The potential that the Baltic Sea offers provides a real possibility to build a network of cooperative interdependence and functioning collaborative structures. The security and economic agendas for the Baltic Sea region are comprehensive. The region can contribute to common security and play a central role in the economic development in all of Europe. The key lies in the policies of the EU, NATO and Russia. These policies are geared to promote common security and prosperity, create confidence and avoid divisions. A strong Northern Dimension of the EU is an essential part of the development for the future of the Baltic Sea region. In that we need cooperation also from the Southern Member States of the Union. We, in the North, are ready to make our contribution to the cooperation programmes in the Mediterranean area.

The countries and people in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea areas can learn more from each other. We can support each other in the ongoing process of change on a regional level, as well as within the EU, in advancing our common goals. The European Council to be held here in Barcelona next month will focus on some of the priorities of the Europe’s agenda for reform: to make Europe a more competitive, dynamic and prosperous economic area in the world. Finland is fully committed to this work.