José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Remarks by President Barroso at the Baltic Sea States Summit
Formal session of the summit
Vilnius, 2 June 2010
Prime Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Few other places in the world have seen such a will to cooperate at the governmental level and, most impressively, also at the grass-roots level and in business than the Baltic Sea region.
The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) succeeded in its original task, to bridge old divides. It should now look with confidence to the future. The joint vision 2020 that we are adopting in this Summit contains the forward-looking objectives, we should now work to achieve. We need a long-term vision that can shore-up our short-term actions.
Two years ago we decided to revitalise the CBSS and to make it possible for the organisation “to focus on priority actions” and “develop regionally important and strategic projects”. How can we make sure that the Council can fulfil this ambitious task?
The enthusiasm for cooperation has generated a large number of cooperative structures in the Region. The need for coordination is obvious.
I believe there is much untapped potential in better coordination. The Northern Dimension is a key forum to discuss ways to get more synergy from cooperation between all the actors.
Are we doing enough to harvest this synergy?
The Northern Dimension is now the most dynamic framework for cooperation. Equal Partnership works! The Commission is committed to the success of the Northern Dimension and we support the initiatives taken. We have allocated 15 million Euros this year for current and new initiatives in environment, transport and culture, and we are currently discussing with the Parliament how a 20 million Euro reserve can best be used for the benefit of initiatives that promote cooperation reflecting external aspects of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.
We are now launching the first calls for proposals under the new Cross-Border-Cooperation programmes with Russia. To implement these programmes we still need Russian ratification of the Financing Agreements.
The economic crisis confirms the importance of solid regional cooperation. We are struggling with the worst crisis for decades, and economic recovery remains fragile. It is a difficult time for many. But the crisis is also an opportunity to accelerate economic restructuring towards green, smart and inclusive growth. It illustrates the need to work together beyond regional, national and sector boundaries.
The EU has recently launched the Europe 2020 Strategy which shows how the EU can come out stronger from the crisis and how it can be turned into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy with high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion. I discussed similar ideas with President Medvedev yesterday when we launched a new EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation. The summit again impressed me with the comprehensiveness of EU-Russia relations. In the new Modernisation Partnership we have the greatest potential for mutual gain if we get it right. We all need to discard old obstacles to deal effectively with the future.
The Baltic Sea region is where EU and Russia meet. We have a common border. We have a common sea to take care of. It is here, in the Baltic Sea region, that most is at stake. It is here we must get EU-Russia relations right. The future of the region, and more, depends on it.
The region is well prepared to get it right.
Last year the EU launched the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. It is the beginning of a new way of working and thinking about cooperation in the EU and also with Russia and Norway. The bad condition of the water in the Baltic Sea is central to the Strategy, but it is about much more. It aims to remove obstacles to cooperation on economic development, safety, transport and energy. These issues reach outside the EU. Therefore, the Strategy is open for pragmatic cooperation with Russia and Norway.
How can we take full advantage of this opportunity?
The Strategy is already beginning to show results. It is a decentralised effort. Countries acting as Priority Area Coordinators have assumed their responsibilities, kick-off meetings have been held and project leaders are launching their projects. Several administrations have adapted their organisation to the new tasks, others are considering this.
Some problems still need to be tackled. In some countries we see a gap between the political commitment made in the discussion phase and the effort now to promote projects on the ground. This is a known problem.
How can we turn political commitments into action?
The Strategy must be made more visible. Private companies must feel that the strategy is working for them. We need their input. We need to know where there are obstacles. We need to make sure that investments in research and development will actually benefit companies, also the small innovative companies.
Many of the goals of the Strategy are similar to the priorities we defined two years ago for the Council of the Baltic Sea States. One example is customs cooperation, where the Strategy will coordinate with actions taken in the CBSS to improve cooperation among customs authorities. The CBSS work on sustainable development, in Baltic 21, is also relevant for the Strategy. So is the work in the Baltic Sea Regional Energy Cooperation (BASREC) to create integrated markets and save energy.
I hope that the CBSS will see the Strategy as complementary to its own objectives. We would warmly welcome active cooperation with the CBSS, of course in full respect for the Council’s independence.
These are my thoughts and questions on ways to enhance cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region. I will listen with great interest to your proposals and comments.