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PACE Strasbourg,  8th October

2010

Honourable Chair,

 

I have a pleasure to introduce the report on "Fostering the socio-economic potential of the Baltic Sea region" for which I have been the rapporteur.

 

The report reviews issues such as how to tackle the socio-economic challenges, as well as the environmental problems and developments in the field of education. The global context is changing. In that light the region's countries need to rethink their strategic development orientations. The key word is: cooperation. It can not be repeated too much. Cooperation is needed in all areas of Baltic Sea project.

 

The national parliaments and the regional parliaments should play a major role in preparing relevant Baltic Sea protection projects and overseeing their implementation. It is also highly important to further develop close and constructive dialogue with the Russian Federation and its Kaliningrad region, as well as with Belarus. The democracy building and supporting grassroots entrepreneurship is an important step towards dealing with the environmental issues as well. The region needs more solidarity in terms of working out joint participation mechanisms for the realisation of projects - driven by their shared interests - as regards stable energy supply, cross-sector partnerships and the pooling of know-how.

 

A variety of regional structures forming solid grounds for fostering socio-economic development and stability in the south-eastern part of the Baltic Sea region have emerged since 1990s. These structures include for example the Baltic Sea Parliamentary conference and the Baltic Sea Chambers of Commerce Association.

 

These co-operation systems have had positive effects on regional exchanges concerning environmental problems and economic challenges. I want to stress that to achieve the goals requires countries' mutual consent and genuine will.  It also requires awakening of the people through, for example, the awareness-raising environmental campaigns.

 

The economic expansion and environmental protection can and should go hand in hand. For example, many environment projects create new jobs in the field of renewable energy. Ecology and economy are two sides of the same coin. There is no economic activity which would not pollute the environment. The changes are needed in economic behaviour of the people, communities and companies to improve the situation. More efficiency in the use of energy, the lowest possible level of pollution in all economic activity and recycling of waste into new resources are all needed to really make a change.

 

The states of the Baltic Sea region have been exemplary in eliminating obstacles in cross-border business relations and trade. If the remaining obstacles would be eliminated it could increase the region's GDP by one percent. The region has certainly become almost open for outside partners and competitors and it has a huge market potential. However, we should remember that the potential regional integration in all aspects is at its best when countries share similar levels of development, political background and as well, cultures. Important part of the change in the former socialist countries has been the foreign direct investment. In addition to capital, it has also for example brought in new technology, marketing know-how and channels to other markets. Not only capital moves within the Baltic Sea region but also high-skilled labour.

 

Although all of the riparian states excluding Russia are now in the EU, relatively few concrete proposals have been made to develop identity and integration of the Baltic Sea area. A lot of work is needed to improve the situation of the Baltic Sea. The region needs closer political and economic partnership at all levels of governance additional to that what has already been achieved. It should also seek that European funds for priority projects in the Baltic Sea region receive sufficient additional input at national level.

 

One of the concrete measures was the launching of EU's future strategy for the Baltic Sea in June 2009. The strategy has four pillars which are 1.) to make the region more environmentally sustainable, 2.) more prosperous, 3.) more accessible and attractive and more 4.) secure. The strategy is accompanied by an Action Plan comprising 15 priority areas and it is financed by the Baltic Sea states, European Investment banks, NGO's, private sources et cetera. The European Council also launched its own EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region in 2009.

 

I think that the Baltic Sea region needs an own institution which would act as a guardian of the Baltic Sea region's interests and could be good for its image and visibility, kind of a "Baltic Sea Union". This is something to consider in the future.

 

Mr Chair,

 

we have got several amendments from the Committee on environment, agriculture and local and regional affairs. I think most of them were good and they made the environmental point of view in this rapport even stronger.

 

Thank you.