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IP/08/1430

Brussels, 30 September 2008

Commissioner Danuta Hübner and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt launch debate on EU strategy for Baltic Sea Region

Danuta Hübner, the European Commissioner responsible for regional policy, and the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, will launch a debate today on the EU's future strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Commissioner Hübner and Premier Reinfeldt will open a stakeholder conference in Stockholm, attended by representatives of Member States, NGOs, local authorities and financing institutions, with the aim of laying the foundations for a stronger and more coordinated Baltic Sea policy.

"The Baltic Sea is threatened. Without action, this great sea, famous for trade, for history and for leisure, risks rapidly turning into an ecological disaster zone. The development of the entire Baltic region is also at risk, despite the opportunities created by the Internal Market. A vibrant Baltic region is vitally important for the EU and we need to work together, with Member States and other stakeholders, to tackle common challenges and deliver results that benefit all. The future EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea will be central to addressing today's challenges and making the most of the opportunities," said Commissioner Hübner.

The Strategy will focus on four main objectives:

  • to improve the environmental state of the Baltic Sea Region, which is the largest brackish water system in the world. Protection of the rich biodiversity and development of risk prevention will be among the priorities.
  • to make the Baltic Sea Region more prosperous by supporting balanced economic development: promoting innovation through small and medium enterprises; helping the region to fully implement EU legislation, especially single market rules. These are just some possible ways forward.
  • to make the region more accessible and attractive, for its inhabitants, for its labour force and for tourists. The region needs better transport links and to improve an energy security with interconnected electricity grids and gas pipelines.
  • to make the region safer and more secure, for instance by reinforcing cooperation between Member States through EUROPOL, the European Police Office.

Attention will also be paid to the creation of a clearer Baltic Sea Region identity, following the example of the Mediterranean. The strategy will moreover be a practical way to cooperate with Russia, the only non-EU state bordering the Baltic Sea. Other non-EU countries have also expressed their interest in the strategy.

Why does Europe need a common strategy on the Baltic Sea region?

  • Since the 2004 enlargement, eight of the nine countries bordering the Baltic Sea are members of the European Union (Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland). It has almost become an internal EU sea. These countries share a common cultural heritage as well as legislation. They also have common challenges to address.
  • There are wide differences in economic development between the EU Member States bordering the area. The region represents 23% of the EU population (106 million inhabitants), whereas its aggregated GDP is 16%. The Baltic region is also facing major challenges including demographic change (population ageing), growth of organized crime, pollution (oil tanker accidents, nutrients from agriculture, urban wastewater). Marine life is dying out throughout the Baltic Sea and that could cause the entire ecosystem to collapse for lack of oxygen. 
  • Many studies, reports and action plans for the Baltic have been produced over the years, but very few cover the entire region and all the policy fields having an impact on its future development.
  • Given the high number of EU programmes already operating in the Baltic Sea region, there is a need for more coordination. In 2007-2013, € 55 billion will be invested in the region by the EU through Cohesion policy programmes alone.

Background

In December 2007, the Member States asked the European Commission to prepare an "EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region" by June 2009.

The consultation process launched by today's conference will lead to a proposal for an EU strategy in the form of a Commission Communication in June 2009. This will be accompanied by an action plan identifying key actors, financial instruments to be used for implementation and a timeframe for completion. The adoption of the Strategy by the Member States will be one of the priorities of the Swedish Presidency in the second half of 2009.

The next Baltic Sea Region conferences/debates will take place in Gdansk (13 Nov), Copenhagen (1-2 Dec), Helsinki (9 Dec) and Rostock (5-6 Feb 2009).

For more information:

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/cooperation/baltic


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