Minister Tuomioja's speech at Baltic Development Forum Summit

Foreign Ministeri Erkki Tuomioja's speech at 5th Annual forum of the EUSBSR and 16th Baltic Development Forum Summit

Plenary Session: Ownership, Leadership and Implementation of the EUSBSR – from Commitment to Action, June 4, 2014

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I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to this important session of the Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the Baltic Sea Development Forum Summit.  It is a pleasure to be in Turku and participate in the Turku Baltic Sea Days.  I would like to extend my warm thanks and appreciation especially to the EU Commission, City of Turku, and Baltic Development Forum.  The interesting and stimulating program has drawn a big crowd here in Logomo.

All these meetings are organized in spirit of cooperation and coherence.   As you know, Finland was planning to host the Prime Ministers' meeting here in Turku back-to-back with the other events, but this was not possible due to the current political situation in Europe.   The Finnish Presidency of the CBSS is, however, supporting in many ways the various events taking place in Turku.  The welfare of the Baltic Sea Region is one of the key priorities for Finland.  That is why it is of great importance that the cooperation at expert and authority level will continue at different fora  -  the work of the expert and working groups, and networks has been carried on in spite the current political uncertainties.

After a couple of weeks Estonia will take over the Presidency of the CBSS.    We are committed to closely cooperate with the incoming Presidency, as well as with all countries around the Baltic Sea Region. Finland is ready to give its contribution and continue the important work for the benefit of the Baltic Sea.

The Ukrainian crisis has affected EU-Russian relations and the illegal annexation of the Crimea cannot be accepted or recognized by the international community. However the Ukrainian crisis can be solved if all parties are sincerely committed to the principles established in the Geneva statement of April 17th and the Road Map presented by the OSCE. Meanwhile it should not be in anyone's interest to allow the conflict to negatively affect our pragmatic cooperation in the Council of Baltic Sea States and other regional fora.

The Baltic Sea Region is a dynamic economic area.  The Baltic Sea represents a huge potential for more growth.  The Baltic Sea States are strongly interdependent and the sea itself plays a crucial role for all of them. Regional cooperation around the Baltic Sea has helped boost trade growth and increased well-being, but we are still far from using this potential to the extent we could.

There are several cooperation mechanism and frameworks in our region.  The Council of the Baltic Sea States has played a significant role in the dynamic development of the regional cooperation.  The CBSS is the most important intergovernmental organization in the Baltic Sea Region for political high-level discussions.  Its role is increasing also as a project organization, including the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.  One of the strengths of this cooperation is the active involvement of cities and regions of the member states.
The Northern Dimension provides a useful framework for policy dialogue concerning regional cooperation between the EU, Russia, Norway and Island, covering both the Baltic Sea and Barents region. The Northern Dimension partnerships have turned out to be useful tools for implementing concrete cooperation projects.

The need to improve communication and connection between the different cooperation structures and stakeholders is particularly mentioned as an important goal in the Finnish CBSS Presidency program.  Likewise, we have highlighted the need to improve the implementation of the priorities, strategies and results of the various projects.

During our Presidency we have followed three guiding principles:  Coherence, cooperation and continuity.  Our aim has been to improve synergies particularly with the Northern Dimension and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.

The EUSBSR was the first macro regional strategy within the European Union, when it was adopted almost 5 years ago. Like Commissioner Hahn said, we have started a trend.  The Baltic Sea Region Strategy has been a sort of test bed for the macro regional approach in the EU. It has created multiple new networks, brought new ideas and achieved many concrete results in its priority areas – and I want to thank all the stakeholders for their contribution so far. But it is clear that we have now come to a point where the functionality, results and value added of the Strategy must be critically examined and its shortcomings corrected – to give our strategy more muscle and capacity to deliver results, as you said.

I have read with great interest the Commission´s Report on the Governance of Macro Regional Strategies from May 21.  I can fully agree with the analysis of the Report that stronger political leadership and decision-making from countries and regions concerned is needed, and that for authorities working on day-to-day implementation there is a need for explicit lines of responsibility, effective coordination and sufficient resources. And, above all, we have to fulfil what we promise: the gap between political declarations and the concrete implementation level must be overcome.

It is true that the strategic leadership and coordination has so far mainly been on the shoulders of the Commission. The Commission´s role will continue to be crucial in the future as well. After all we are speaking of an EU Strategy and not only of a joint effort on regional level.  Your contribution and hard work in DG Regio in coordinating and facilitating the macro regional strategies is highly appreciated. In bringing the macro regional approach and the EU policies closer together an active participation from all Directorates General of the Commission is needed in the future.

Your Report on Governance mentions that in the governance of the macro regional strategies one size cannot fit all and that the different strengths of the macro regions must be understood and taken into account. This is true particularly regarding the Baltic Sea Region.

I agree that the ministers hosting National Contact Points should play a leading role. However, the proposal for regular meetings between us and even a rotating presidency for the Strategy may be rather challenging, given the number of ministerial meetings we already have in various formats each year with colleagues from the Baltic Sea Region. It seems unlikely that my colleagues would be eager to add one more rotating presidency and one more regular meeting to their schedules. But whenever there is a need for strategic decisions on the Strategy to be taken on the ministerial level, I am sure that we can find flexible solutions that make use of existing regional structures, like the CBSS or the Northern Dimension. The newly assumed rotating chair of the National Contact points can bring more consistency and continuity to coordination work and it should be further developed.

We can all agree that the role of sectorial ministries is crucial and that they should drive progress in their thematic areas much more than what has been the case so far, apart from ministers for environment who regularly meet at HELCOM format. We are going to discuss the roles of sectorial ministries in the implementation of the EUSBSR in our government in the near future and I encourage other governments to do the same. For discussing and agreeing on important regional issues related to the Strategy they could also very well meet in the margins of the Councils.

As to the implementation level, we have to bear in mind that most of our national administrations struggle with scarce resources. We should ensure necessary working conditions and support for the priority area coordinators and horizontal action leaders, but we should not build a system that increases the administrative burden too much. Looking at the present structure of the Baltic Sea Strategy and its Action Plan, one cannot avoid questioning, are we trying to cover too many fields? I agree with you that there is a need for streamlining and focusing on areas and issues that really bring added value from a regional perspective. In this respect I welcome the aim of the NCPs and the Commission to address this issue during the next months and review the Action Plan where needed.

Focusing the cooperation on objectives and projects that can bring tangible results is even more important just now when there are fresh resources available in the European structural and investment funds and other EU programmes for funding good projects.

When the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region was initiated, saving the sea was seen as the most urgent challenge. In response to the urgency of the ecological challenge we can note with satisfaction that work on environmental projects have succeeded relatively well. Environmental concerns and the health of the Baltic Sea must and will remain central on our agenda.

At the same time I share your view, that there is need for much more regional cooperation and strategic initiatives in the fields of transport and energy. You mentioned accelerating work on interconnectors between Member States and infrastructure for LNG. These issues are vital for Finland and they have been among our priorities during the CBSS Presidency and the results were presented here yesterday.  There is also a plan to hold a meeting between the NB8 Foreign Ministers of the Nordic and Baltic countries on enhanced energy cooperation. I would expect this meeting also to contribute to the work within the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.

Cooperation with all countries of the region is a must, when we want to save the sea, connect the region and create prosperity.  In times of international stress in state relations, the importance of regional stability, dialogue and cooperation grows. For example the urgent challenges of saving the sea cannot wait until the international relations have been normalized. I am glad that so many experts and regional representatives from non-EU-countries of the Baltic Sea Region are giving their contribution to this Forum and that so many joint projects have been and are being implemented. I also wish that the constructively started dialogue between the EU and Russia on defining the links between the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the Strategy for North-West Russia of the Russian Federation will continue and create a solid basis for future cooperation in our region.

From the beginning one of the strengths of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region has been the involvement of multilevel stakeholders. It is not only a cooperation strategy for the governments, but also for regions, cities, businesses, universities and educational institutions and non-governmental organizations.  We should broaden this involvement even more. This Annual Forum is a good example of the multilevel approach and the contribution of various actors. We should also enhance the role of the many well-functioning pan-Baltic organizations in the implementation of the Strategy.

Last November the Baltic Sea Labour Forum Round Table was held in Helsinki. There I underlined that it is important to promote the issues related to youth and mobility of labour. The two focus areas, youth unemployment and mobility of labour, are of utmost importance and crucial for the economic and social development of the Baltic Sea region. If we take a broader look at the future of the Baltic Sea region and European Union from a social perspective, it is clear that the internal market of the EU and the mobility of the labour enhance the opportunities for economic growth in the future. In order to have a welfare society that would be at the same time solid and flexible, economic growth is necessary, not least because of the challenge posed by demographic change. 

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the importance of supporting widening of youth cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region. This has been one of the goals of our CBSS Presidency and it was also discussed in the Baltic Sea Region NGO Forum held here in Turku in the beginning of this week. When we want to integrate the region, use all its potential and create sustainable prosperity, increasing mobility and connections between our young people is the best tool.