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Commissioner for Regional Policy
Growing Together: for a connected, inclusive and prosperous EU Baltic Sea Macro-Region
5th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region
Turku, Finland - 3 June 2014
This year is a special year. It is 25 years since the division of Europe ended. And it is 10 years since many of your countries joined the EU. These were historic steps that changed the face of our continent and opened up new opportunities for us all – individually, regionally and nationally.
And the Baltic Sea Strategy is just old enough to celebrate its own milestone anniversary: 5 years old already.
Five years developing the most ambitious Strategy for cooperation in the region. I believe that in time the development of this new Macro-Region may prove to be as important as those earlier breakthroughs in 1989 and 2004: and it is certainly a further step on the path that was set then – to greater European integration, to better chances for all, and for closer relationships between neighbours in order to get the best results for every citizen.
This is a process that has brought the Baltic States firmly back into the European family and continues to help reinforce ties to others like Norway and Iceland who share with us the same values, and interests.
Our strong preference would be to develop this region in harmonious cooperation with this region's big neighbour, the Russian Federation. We remain committed to this goal. But respect for international law, respect for others' sovereignty are not matters on which we can compromise.
This strategy is already reaping results. But not enough people know about them. When you leave this conference go and make sure the people you know, are aware of the results we are achieving.
Tell them about the important cooperation being done on addressing the dangers from chemical munitions left in the Baltic Sea. This is an example of how the Strategy provides help to national authorities to tackle serious risks in the region.
Tell them about the phasing out of phosphates in detergents ensuring a healthier sea for their families and for wildlife too.
Tell them about the headway being made on e-navigation, making the Baltic Sea Region a prime mover in the development of infrastructure and services in this important field.
Finally, tell them about the potential of biogas waiting to be exploited as a sustainable energy source for the Region.
But we can, and must, do much more.
2014 is an important year for one more reason: it is the year in which we are programming the EU structural and investment funds effectively for the next decade. It is a process that will have a major impact on the success of our Baltic cooperation.
My services are currently hard at work screening Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes, to ensure that programmes for the coming period take the Macro-Regional Strategies into account. Not everything is perfect, but doors are opening to provide the financial muscle, the incentive needed to make real results on the ground.
Take our hosts, Finland. In the preparation for the new programming period, the Finnish authorities have emphasised Baltic Sea cooperation in a number of sectors. We really appreciate the contribution Finland makes to this Strategy, and – let me say – their excellent welcome to us all here in Turku.
The aim of these new programmes should be to put the substantial resources available in the region to work, to achieve a more prosperous and connected region with an improved environmental status of the Baltic Sea. Results that everyone in the region can see and feel.
How are we going to get the best from those investments?
As you know, just days ago, the European Commission published its report on governance of Macro-Regional Strategies.
It might sound dry but what this report is really about is how to make this and the other Macro-Regional strategies real winners.
We will be discussing governance in more depth tomorrow – but the nub of it is: who is responsible for doing what?
The Baltic region has been the pioneer of the Macro-Regional approach. Others are looking to you as a model and trying to copy you. We will publish a strategy for the Adriatic Ionian region in a couple of weeks, and for the Alps next year. Both will be drawing on your experience.
But you have to keep on blazing the trail. Cooperation in the framework of Macro‑-Regional strategies is a long term effort. We need you to show others how it is done.
We need you to continue to explore how to maximise your cooperation to achieve results. Recent events have reminded us how important energy cooperation is. I will say more about that tomorrow.
And coordination of transport policies is key to facilitating growth in the region. We need now, more than ever, to make progress in realising the European transport corridors – to boost trade, and help Europe put the crisis behind us.
More than 1000 people registered for this event here in Turku – quite a crowd.
I would like to thank the city of Turku, the Baltic Development Forum and Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for hosting and co-organising this conference, because it is so important to have this opportunity come together. Please – use this chance. Find new partners. Make your views heard. Play your part in helping your region to grow – and all of us here, to grow together.