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With the enlargement of the EU and the development of the Northern Dimension, a new momentum for the strengthening of Baltic Sea cooperation has emerged. In his speech, Christopher Beazley MEP underlined first that 8 of 9 countries bordering the Baltic Sea are members of the European Union and that a couple of them are in the NATO. These countries share a common cultural heritage as well as legislation. That is a great opportunity to develop regional programmes and policies within the EU by taking into account the specific issues faced by all EU countries bordering the Baltic Sea. In other words, it is not only a Baltic but also a European strategy. Secondly, Mr. Beazley pointed out the global and steady growth of the GDP in the Baltic region. In contrast, the countries which were longer under Soviet occupation still have a lack of growth. The Baltic Sea Strategy, initiated by Germany, and the support of the EU are imperative to tackle the low level of competition in those countries. The case of Spain, Portugal and Ireland was cited to show how useful and efficient the contribution of the EU, based on regional programmes and policies, can be.
The second speaker, Alexander Stubb MEP summarized the strategy in the form of three questions:
What is it all about? The Northern Dimension is based on three pillars: the Baltic Sea States, Russia (including of course Kaliningrad) and the Baltic Sea itself. The aim of the Baltic Sea Strategy is to raise awareness of the importance of a close cooperation between the Baltic countries.
Why should it be done now? The Northern Dimension has started with the Finnish presidency of the EU and should continue with the German presidency. Moreover, with 8 EU countries around the Baltic Sea, Russia, particularly Kaliningrad, looks like an outsider and should be more integrated into the cooperation between Baltic Sea States. This region needs some kind of “brand”, following the example of the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, it should be done now because there is a window of opportunity and because serious problems such as pollution or organized crime have to be tackled as soon as possible through a rigorous and close cooperation.
How should it be done? The Baltic Sea Strategy will be a long track. That is why it has to be thought in a long term perspective. The Commission and the German presidency should help to bring the initiative on its way. What is needed now are summits, a budget and more working environment protection.
The third speaker on “A Baltic Sea Region Strategy for the Northern Dimension”, Michael Gahler MEP, gave more details about the report of the European Parliament. On the one hand the resolution points out what has already been done, and what has to be done on the other hand. Concerning the budget, two budget lines may be coupled, the first one concerning the Baltic Sea, and the second one concerning the cooperation between the EU and Russia. The Baltic Sea Initiative will focus on four areas the members considered most important:
Environment: e.g. tackle the pollution in the Baltic Sea, reduce the risk of oil tanker accidents (still a lack of coordination) and develop of the fisheries in a sustainable way.
Economics: e.g. deepening the integration of the markets in the region, no restrictions on the new EU members joining the common labour market, using Kaliningrad as a pilot for regional integration with Russia in order to create a common economic space between EU and Russia and developing a diversity of supply of energy (the region is too dependent on Russia).
Culture and Education: establishing links between Universities throughout the region in order to create centres of excellence and promote student exchange as well as creating a common think tank focusing on the interest Region as a whole.
Security: stabilizing and reinforcing the relationship between Russia and the EU, developing a common foreign and security policy and strengthening Europol presence to combat the high level of organized crime in the region (human and drug trafficking) and cooperating in the social and health sector (spread of HIV/AIDS, alcoholism).
Finally, Mr. Gahler took up the words of Alexander Stubb and insisted on the fact that Germany has to take the opportunity to go further in the discussed issues during the presidency.
The following discussion focused on values and the aim of this initiative, about the impact of the strategy towards the Northern dimension as well as about the role of Russia. The answer of MM. Beazley, Stubb and Gahler was as follows. The Northern Dimension and the Baltic Sea Strategy are both based on historical reasons and a common background. Nevertheless, the notion of Baltic Sea Region did not exist until now. This notion is vital to improve the relationship between Baltic States and to lower the economical disparities. In other words, a specific strategy is necessary. Russia has never been included in such programmes. The Baltic Sea Strategy is therefore an opportunity for both EU and Russia to improve their relations and to show the stakeholders how useful such a close cooperation can be. Finally, this new project can be a way to relaunch the “European excitement” and the institutional reforms.