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[Check Against Delivery]
Commissioner for Regional Policy
From Words to Action – Governance of Macro-Regional Strategies
5th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region
Turku, Finland - 4 June 2014
I have made it my habit to be rather frank when I speak to you at our annual meetings.
So, I don't mind telling you, that when I became European Commissioner in 2010, I really didn't expect the Macro-Regional Strategies to become such a major part of regional policy during my term in office.
But following your example, the Danube launched a Macro-Regional Strategy, and now we are weeks away from the publication of a new Adriatic Ionian Strategy, with the Strategy for the Alpine Region planned for next year.
You started a trend, and an important one. This is a tribute to your efforts and you should be proud of the part you have played in pioneering this new way of working.
But as I said yesterday we still need to do more to make this new approach reach its full potential.
We have studied your experience and that of the Danube. Structures have been put in place, some good, some less satisfactory. There is support at a political level – but that support doesn't always translate into top level decision making or follow up to initiatives decided under the Strategy. And, as I have said over and over again, it doesn't often enough translate into the necessary human resources.
Europe still looks to the Baltic Sea Region as the pioneer in the Macro-Regional approach. So I am hoping you will seize the Governance report we published a week or so ago and really use it to give your strategy more muscle and more capacity to deliver results.
Let me remind you of our key recommendations - but also remind you these are our suggestions for you to reflect on and act on in your own way.
It is time for the macro regions each to assume responsibility for their own strategy and performance. At present all the strategies over-rely on the Commission as the principal driving force.
The strength of the strategies needs to come from the region itself. We need full involvement of ALL levels of governance including the ministerial level of your governments.
We propose a key role for the ministers hosting National Contact Points, leading implementation, and meeting as required to take decisions, and solve problems that are not possible to resolve at technical level.
And we believe that sectoral ministers need to be more involved and oversee the work of the different priority areas - meeting if needs be on an ad hoc basis.
I am the last to suggest meeting for meeting's sake: what I am suggesting is that ministers should meet when this would solve problems or help to establish region-wide strategies for real co-operation.
You are ahead of the game on some of our proposals – for example to put in place a rotating presidency. Finland has been the first and done a great job, and will shortly be handing over to Estonia, I understand.
But you need to make full use of this new system to lead decision making - calling ad hoc meetings as required, troubleshooting when and if necessary.
To succeed, you will have to address the human resources question: it will simply not be possible to get best results with staff who spend only 5-10% of their time on strategy work. Too many key people working on the strategy are asked do this as a minor part of their job. We need full time engagement from the key people – the National Contact Points and those leading Priority Areas and Horizontal Actions.
I said I would be frank. We have assumed that if Member States identify a topic as a priority, they will also provide the staff to participate in meetings, make recommendations and follow up on decisions. But there are priority areas that are still not receiving this support. So are these areas priorities for the region, or not?
It is your strategy, and you must decide.
At the heart of this is ownership. The strategy achieves its potential when we work on priorities where member states have made a clear choice to co-operate together.
The recent election results of the European Parliament demonstrate how much work is still to be done to make clear the connection between the everyday life of EU citizens and European Policy. I believe that the macro-regional approach can help us to bring Europe closer to the regions and the people who live in them.
To give you some examples, environment is an area where commitment to the Macro-Regional Strategy is clear. The result? More and more pollution hotspots are being tackled throughout the Macro-Region.
However, if we look at transport, which everyone accepts is key to growth in the region, progress in joint planning and realisation of the TEN T networks is slow. The value added of the strategy is the contribution it can make to planning investment and implementation. Pavel Telicka will have more to say on this I am sure. In the Danube we have already experimented with holding a meeting of transport ministers from the Macro-Region, and plan to hold another this autumn. This is something that you might want to consider here in the Baltic, to mobilise funds and co-ordinate investment decisions.
Or take energy. You don't need me to tell you how important it is to develop our energy security.
And, as the Commission's Energy Security Strategy published last week says, a regional approach will be decisive for the integration of the European energy market and for our security of supply.
The Macro-Regional Strategies can provide a framework to identify coherent solutions. But we need more strategic political thinking and decision-making.
In this region one way forward is to increase energy production through biogas. Another is to accelerate work on interconnectors between the Member States in the region and extend the infrastructure for LNG. All this must go hand in hand with efforts to step up energy efficiency.
None of these will work well without a joined up approach that looks at the region as a whole, and not just at the separate countries within it. We need shared vision at the political level, that feeds down to those charged with implementation, first to the national contact points, and then to the relevant priority areas.
The Macro-Region is not an obligation. It is a choice.
A year from now the choices made by the Member States will be clearer. If the programming of funds in the new generation of Regional Policy programmes reflects the objectives and prioritises the projects of the Strategy, we will know we are on the right track. If not, I think my successor will want to ask some tough questions.
The European Commission will continue to facilitate your work and help with the strategic choices you have to make. The Baltic Sea Region Transnational programme will also be there to offer support, and I will take this opportunity to congratulate the programming committee and the secretariat on their excellent work.
Let me close by saying, a Macro-Regional Strategy should represent Member States' strategic choices for their region. Without national governments, regions and city authorities following up with on those choices with concrete measures and investments, we will not reach the objectives we want.
Our governance report really is a call on every one of you – from individuals to cities and regions right up to ministerial level - to play your part in moving from words to action – and ensure that the Baltic continues to be a model for others as a Macro-Region.