European Commissioner for Regional Policy
Conference on the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region
Mr Chairman, Vice Minister-President, Honourable Ministers, elected representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you here at Rostock this afternoon. On our meeting earlier today Vice Minister-President said that this is the right place to be to finalise our debate. I hope that what you said reflects the position of all Länder. This region has the chance to be more attractive, especially for young people. Thank you for hosting us here and for what you have said.
Thank you to the organisers of this event, especially the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Stakeholders’ conferences and round tables on the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region have been a very practical, and fruitful, demonstration of partnership between all of us involved in this work on Baltic Sea Strategy.
I am also particularly pleased that Christopher Beasley is here today: I would like to thank him for his support, and also say 'Thank you' through him to the other Members of the European Parliament in the Baltic Europe Intergroup.
And I am looking forward to listening to the ministers present with us here this afternoon: Minister Ušackas from Lithuania and Minister Malmstrøm from Sweden. We wouldn't be here without the commitment to partnership we find throughout this region.
We have come a long way since we met at Stockholm last September. A lot has been achieved in the four months since the first Stakeholders’ Conference but there is much still to do before this strategy becomes a reality.
Before I explain what we believe still has to be done, perhaps a few words to remind us of where we are. You know the region much better than me but it is worth getting an idea of the challenges facing us all.
But at the same time we have here:
So there is a lot to do – the region has the resources and the potential to succeed in the challenges facing it.
Since we met at Stockholm conference the clouds of economic uncertainty then appearing have become a storm. And I am sure we all agree that we can't let the financial and economic crisis push us off course. The needs of the region have not changed, and nor have the skills and resources here. The European Union – both Commission and Member States – are taking the decisions necessary at this time. And our focus here is on a longer time-scale and we will not let the current turmoil distract us. On the contrary, the obvious economic problems make cooperation around a well thought-out strategy more essential than ever. And the business opportunities that must be exploited are also present.
The same applies to the energy crisis many Member States and neighbours have been living through. I am not here to blame any side, but what is absolutely clear is that dependence on a single source of power and energy is dangerous. A key feature of the Baltic strategy will be immediate actions to improve inter-connections across the region, especially in the three Baltic States, and the establishment of a real cross-border market for electricity and gas.
We are now at the end of the ‘consultation phase’. Of course, the Commission will not stop listening, or talking, to you but it is time for us to finalise the proposal to the European Council. To get to this point:
I am very pleased that representatives from all these groups are here with us today. Thank you very much for your efforts.
Your messages have been very clear, and we have taken full account of them. Let me mention just some of them:
There are also some things people do NOT want to see, and let me mention just two of them:
The Commission has taken careful note and agrees with all these points.
This conference gives us the opportunity to start the move from words to actions. In the workshops today and tomorrow, I hope to hear your views on the possible key, flagship, projects that we can propose to the Council as first steps to implement the strategy.
Of course we can’t, and most likely won’t, specify right now every action necessary to create a region worthy of the capacities of its citizens. That will be a longer job and your participation, through different channels, will be essential in the future. In the strategy we will indicate examples of the main potential actions to be carried out as soon as possible. Let me now, though, just mention a very few that will give you an idea of the direction in which we think the strategy should go.
For a sustainable environment let’s start by:
To increase prosperity, especially in the poorer parts of the region, we recommend:
Under the accessibility and attractiveness heading, I will just highlight 2 proposals:
And since the safety and security of all our citizens must be paramount at all times, I would encourage further action in this field and in particular:
These are – I repeat – examples. The action plan we present to the Council will have more than this, and you will be discussing all the options shortly. But I also want to underline that for these actions to be implemented, well-functioning, stable partnership is needed. I think I can already say today, on the base of what we have done together that it's working. Let me explain:
We have identified key flagship projects
By these actions in the short term we can ensure that our strategy is more than words: that it will lead to immediate action on the ground. But this strategy must work in the longer term, even after the enthusiasm we all feel now is displaced by familiarity and by other urgent priorities.
Our detailed proposals will depend on the discussions tomorrow, when my Director General, Dirk Ahner, will be participating, and also on our discussions subsequently with Member States and other Stakeholders. But here are some of the points that need to be agreed. We have to ask there questions:
I believe that we should have strong political leadership where it is needed, so we need governments of the region. We must find a way to maintain the priority and support that the Member States are showing. In my view this could be best done by using the resources and qualities of the European Council and the Council of Ministers.
The second question is:
I believe I can say with full responsibility that the Commission is ideally placed to take on a coordinating rôle – if– the necessary resources can be found. The Commission has a view of all policy areas and works closely with all the countries concerned, and with most of the regions. But you must appreciate that this is a new style of work for us, we are entering a new territory, and we will need your help. We need close cooperation with you.
I believe that the implementation on the ground should be done by the bodies that know it best – by the agencies, by municipalities, NGOs and other organisations that have enormous experience and expertise in this region. And again, the Commission can facilitate this process, but there must be full involvement from everyone concerned.
I believe that the existing mechanisms, especially the Northern Dimension Partnership, should be used and, if necessary, adapted to enable the strategy to succeed with support from all sides.
I would like to thank you once again for you commitment, for your input to this strategy, which will enable the Baltic Sea Region to enjoy a sustainable environment and optimal economic and social development.
Thank you very much.