From 1 July 2015 till 30 June 2016 the work of National Coordinators for the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) is led by Poland. During this period, Poland chairs the meetings of national coordinators and determines the agenda. Poland has set the management, implementation and visibility of EUSBSR as its priorities. At the same time as coordinating EUSBSR, Poland is holding the presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.
On 15 November 2005, seven MEPs from the Baltic Europe Intergroup of the European Parliament – Toomas Hendrik Ilves(Estonia); Satu Hassi, Henrik Lax and Alexander Stubb(Finland); Michael Gahler (Germany); Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia); Christopher Beazley (UK) – issued a report on the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, directing the attention of the European Commission and the Council of the EU to emerging challenges in the field of environment, economy, education and security faced by north-eastern Europe following the EU’s enlargement.
On 14 December 2007, on the basis of the EU Parliament Resolution of 16 November 2006, the European Council called on the European Commission to develop a Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. On 10 June 2009, the European Commission adopted a Communication concerning the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and an Action Plan for its implementation. The Strategy was adopted by the European Council of October 2009.
This Strategy is the first EU internal strategy for a European macro-region and is based on an innovative and integrated long-term approach towards the implementation of EU policies in the Baltic Sea region.
Under the Danish Presidency during the first half of 2012, three main objectives of the Strategy were defined to enable its more effective implementation:
- Save the Sea
- Connect the Region
- Increase Prosperity
The Action Plan
The course of the implementation of the Strategy is described in the Action Plan of the Strategy. On 10 September 2015 the European Commission released an updated version of the Action Plan, incorporating 13 priority areas and 4 horizontal actions. The new Action Plan outlines a renewed work programme for all policy areas and horizontal actions, a simplified procedure for implementation of flagship projects, and includes a section on the role of regional organizations in implementing of EUSBSR. Latvia together with Denmark continues as a coordinator for energy policy (PA Energy) and supports the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP). Overall, there are 31 flagship projects with Latvia’s participation in the appendix to the Action Plan. Latvia is the lead partner in two of these projects.
Each priority relates to a main objective in the Strategy; the issues under each priority have been described, and specific targets and indicators have been defined. Under the main objectives, sub-objectives and specific indicators were set, and roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders were outlined.
One or more European Union member states of the Baltic Sea region and regional organizations have undertaken the coordination of each area of cooperation policy and horizontal action, set out in the Action Plan. Each of the cooperation projects has a lead partner appointed – an EU Member State, an organization of regional cooperation, an association of entrepreneurs or an NGO. The Strategy and its Action Plan are subject to review on a regular basis, leaving open the possibility to include new projects.
On 28 March 2014, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillvaxtverket) published a handbook entitled “A Beginner's Guide to the Baltic Sea Region Strategy”, which outlines the common objectives which the region is striving to achieve, and what to do if one wants to work on a project.
At the end of 2014, the European Commission issued a discussion paper on the review of the Action Plan proposing to update the list of its priority areas and horizontal actions. Discussions will be ongoing in the first half of 2015, and the new Action Plan is expected to be presented at the 6th Annual Forum in Jūrmala, Latvia.
EUSBSR Annual Forums
Since 2010, annual forums have been held to address various topics related to the Strategy, bringing together the region's politicians, experts, representatives from the academic circles, regional organisations, public institutions and NGOs, as well as other stakeholders involved in the implementation of the EUSBSR:
The First Annual Forum took place from 14–15 October 2010, Tallinn, Estonia. The main objective of the first annual forum was to provide Priority Area Coordinators and Horizontal Action Leaders with an opportunity to present the work accomplished and share experiences on the implementation of the Action Plan.
The 2nd Annual Forum took place in Gdansk, Poland from 24-26 October 2011and focussed on the theme of Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth.
The 3rd Annual Forum took place in Copenhagen, Denmark from 17-19 June 2012 and was entitled Connecting Europe – Smart and Green Partnerships.
The 4th Annual Forum took place in Vilnius, Lithuania from 11-12 November 2013 and was entitled Baltic Sea, Baltic Growth, Baltic Environment.
The 5th Annual Forum took place in Turku, Finland from 3-4 June 2014, and Growing together – for a prosperous, inclusive and connected Baltic Sea Region.
The 6th Annual Forum of the EUSBSR is entitled Achieving E-Quality by Connecting the Region and it took place at the Dzintari Concert Hall in Jūrmala, Latvia, on 15–16 June 2015. Participants exchanged views on how to improve e-quality – the quality of digital/electronic services and regional connectivity – and achieving equality – overall balanced development of the Baltic Sea Region. The forum also featured a debate on the competitiveness of the Baltic Sea Region. The revised EUSBSR Action Plan is was presented, and views exchangeded on the future of the EUSBSR. The results of the Annual Forum are presented in a final report, prepared by the Latvian Institute of International Affairs.
Involvement of Latvia in the Implementation of the Strategy
Latvia has contributed to the shaping and drafting of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region since the moment the idea was conceived. Consultations were held with stakeholders in Latvia, and a dialogue took place with the region’s countries and the European Commission.
As early as 2008, the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers approved an initial national position on the EUSBSR which laid out priority areas based on an evaluation of opinions offered by line ministries and stakeholders in the framework of the consultation process. Those were: 1) Energy; 2) Competitiveness; 3) Education, research and culture; 4) Environment; 5) Public safety. From the perspective of Latvia, a well-developed Baltic Sea Region will contribute to the increase of the overall competitiveness in the EU and make the eastern part of the Baltic Sea Region more competitive.
In December 2008, in order to provide a contribution to the drafting of the Action Plan for the Strategy, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a national position identifying the regional cooperation projects that Latvia supported including in the plan.
After considering the European Commission’s proposal on the Strategy and its Action Plan, the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers approved the 3rd national position reflecting Latvia’s opinion on the implementation and management of the Strategy and its Action Plan and setting out procedures for the coordination of that process in Latvia.
The directions of regional cooperation important for Latvia include the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan and its implementation, coordinated development of the Trans-European Transport Network and its connections with countries neighbouring the EU, increasing the competitiveness of logistics services, ensuring capacity for facilitating the crossing of the EU’s external border, development of a common area of education and research in the Baltic Sea Region, and cross-border cooperation in the assessment and prevention of environmental pollution.
Coordination of Cooperation at the National Level
In August 2009, in order to coordinate co-operation between ministries, social partners and non-governmental organisations in support of the implementation of the Action Plan, a working group was established by a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers; that group consists of representatives of all line ministries and the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia. From 2012, the working group also includes representatives from the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments and the Cross-Sectorial Coordination Centre. Latvia’s involvement of in the implementation of the EU’s strategy for the Baltic Sea region at the national level is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To renew the membership of the working group, on 22 December 2014, Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a draft Cabinet of Ministers decision requesting the institutions concerned to nominate their representatives for the working group which was eventually presented for consideration at the Cabinet of Ministers meeting in February 2015.
In naming energy as the most important co-operation priority in the framework of the Strategy, Latvia government has undertaken the coordination of co-operation, together with Denmark, on the energy priority at the Baltic Sea region level in the Strategy framework.
In each Policy Area outlined in the Action Plan, one of the line ministries or institutions ensures the identification of Latvia’s interests at the national level and their representation at the EU level.
Three steps towards practical involvement in the implementation of the Action Plan
1. Study the Action Plan and its summary of the ongoing and planned cooperation in the region in line with the 13 Policy Areas and 4 Horizontal Actions.
3. Contact the coordinator of the respective Policy Area and potential cooperation partners in the region.