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European Commission

Johannes HAHN

Commissioner for Regional Policy

Environmental Partnership remains core issue of Baltic Sea Strategy

Conference of the Heads of Government of the Baltic Sea States on Environmental Protection/Saint Petersburg

5 April 2013

Prime Minister Medvedev,

Your Excellencies,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will never forget my first day as EU Commissioner for Regional Policy. It was the Baltic Sea Action Summit in Helsinki back in February 2010. I could not have had a better introduction to the crucial impact regional action can have and the importance of regions working together to achieve common goals.

So I am delighted to be here once again to represent President Barroso, and we are all grateful to our Russian hosts for the excellent organisation of this important event.

It is important because environmental challenges do not recognise man-made borders. Climate change, pollution, and natural disasters all require that we join our efforts at local, regional and national level – and with our international partners.

The truth is that nature does not need mankind – but mankind cannot advance without nature. Good environmental management is central to modern economic development.

The marine environment of the fragile Baltic Sea is key to the prosperity and well-being of all our people. That is why it is at the heart of the European Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. And why it is the core of co-operation between the EU and Russia in this region, through HELCOM and the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership.

The EU Baltic Sea Strategy is a relatively young initiative providing a new form of co-operation between the countries of the region. It allows particularly the EU Member States around the sea basin to plan strategically together and maximise the impact they can achieve with the public and private funds available.

As we develop and refine this new way of working together, it is clear to me that the dominant focus must remain our common interest in saving the sea. Without this, our two other chief concerns, connecting the region and building prosperity, make little sense.

It is still early days, but we can already claim some important progress through the EU Strategy. We have stimulated commitments to phase out the phosphates in detergents that contribute to eutrophication. We have mobilised farmers to adopt better practice to avoid pollution of the sea. And we have launched pilot investments in nutrient removal in four key municipal wastewater treatment plants.

To be successful, we need to work together. We need the full support of all the stakeholders involved in areas that have an impact on the environmental condition of the sea.

Of course, co-operation with Russia is of paramount importance. We look forward to strengthening our work together – including through the Baltic Sea Region programme, in which I hope Russia will soon become a full partner.

Our cooperation has intensified in recent years as Russia has moved to modernise its environmental policies. The personal commitment of Prime Minister Medvedev and President Putin has been key in prioritising work in this field – with 2013 named a Year of Environmental Protection. The EU particularly welcomes the programme for environmental protection till 2020 adopted last year.

This is an essential partnership – driven by common interests and objectives. But it is one in which we will be judged by results. The high level participation here today speaks for the determination and political commitment there is to ensure we protect the heart of this region. However, our will to succeed must be translated into actions and I look forward to the next HELCOM ministerial meeting later this year that will review progress and decide on the next steps to be taken.

And, while we are thinking ahead, let me also invite you all to the next annual forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region which will be held in Vilnius on 11-12 November.

Prime minister, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

We are all here today because we believe in co-operating across borders to find pragmatic solutions to the challenges we face. We have already achieved a lot. Let's stay ambitious, and ensure that we pass a better place to live and work to those who come after us.


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