BSPC Standing Committee meets in Brussels
Under the Chairmanship of BSPC-President Carola Veit, the President of the Hamburg Parliament, the BSPC Standing Committee gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels on 23 January 2017 to exchange with partner-organisations about current common issues and to prepare the upcoming Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Hamburg. Representatives and delegations of European Parliament, European Commission, Council of the Baltic Sea States, HELCOM, the House of Representatives of Belarus and of BSPC members from Åland-Islands, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Nordic Council, Norway, the Russian Federation, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden participated in the meeting.
The Standing Committee was greeted by the Standing Committee member and Chair of the EP Delegation for relations with Switzerland and Norway and to the EU-Iceland Joint Parliamentary Committee and the European Economic Area Joint Parliamentary Committee, Mr Jørn Dohrmann.
In accordance with the BSPC work programme and objectives in 2016- 2017,
– to further the cooperation between the CBSS and the BSPC
– to promote the implementation of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan
– to support the development of an equal Baltic Sea Strategy –
including regular reporting from the European Commission
BSPC Standing Committee had invited CBSS, HELCOM and the European Commission to give progress reports and to discuss current common issues.
Progress Report from the Council of the Baltic Sea States
Ambassador Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Ambassador of Iceland, thanked the President of the BSPC Carola Veit for taking part at the High-Level Panel Discussion – 25 Years Nordic-Baltic Cooperation in Iceland. She was giving valuable insights into the work of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, highlighting the importance of the dialogue between CBSS and BSPC, and its importance for enhanced cooperation in the region. Ambassador Stefánsson sent regards from Iceland’s new Foreign Minister, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson. He pointed out that regional organisations are an important tool to stimulate cooperation within Europe and that successful regional cooperation has, time and again, proven its worth. Practical cooperation and dialogue on a broad range of issues can, in general, rebuild and foster mutual trust and have a positive impact internationally. He underlined inter alia that the developments in the BSR and in Europe are a cause for concern. The flow of refugees and the number of displaced people, children included, has not been greater since WWII. The increased threat of terrorism is obvious and it can be seen extremism gaining strength in Europe. At the same time Europe has experienced tensions in the area because of the situation in Ukraine. Therefore the priorities of the Icelandic CBSS Presidency are: democracy, equality and children. This underpins the CBSS long-term priorities, aiming to foster a regional identity, develop a sustainable and prosperous region and build a safe and secure region. CBSS believes that there are substantial benefits from this broad practical cooperation that takes place within the CBSS, including the area of human trafficking, civil protection and child protection. In the past six months CBSS had driven forward several events with a focus on the priorities of democracy, equality and children. CBSS held a Round Table on Youth Affairs and a Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue with young journalists from the region. The CBSS intends also to stimulate knowledge sharing and best practices in regards to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Developments Goals. The CBSS Expert Group on Sustainable Development is developing an Action Plan for the Baltic 2030 process built on the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In all matters of the SDGs CBSS finds regional cooperation to be very important. Ambassador Stefánsson closing his speech informed that CBSS is now in the process of planning a high-level meeting in June this year on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of CBSS. He asked for support of the BSPC in making this high level political dialogue between the member countries possible.
Briefings on Belarus and the Eastern Partnership after election in Belarus
The Standing Committee was currently engaged in deliberations over its stance concerning Belarus. The next step has been taken in this process at the SC meeting in Brussels, thus the House of Representatives of Belarus was invited to inform about the current situation in Belarus.
Mr Valery Voronetski, Chairman of the Standing Commission on International Affairs of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Belarus presented the political situation after elections in September 2016. He pointed out that during elections, 827 international observers and 32,105 citizen observers were accredited. The OSCE admitted that 11 September parliamentary elections were efficiently organized. Women were well-represented in the election process. Out of the 114 women candidates standing in these elections, 38 were elected. This is more than twice the amount in the outgoing parliament and represents some 35 per cent of all members of parliament. The speaker also underlined that 27 out of 110 parliamentarians were elected for the second time and this ensures a continuity of the parliament’s work also with regard to its international cooperation. In October 2016 the Republic of Belarus adopted its first national human rights plan. It contains 100 measures to improve the human rights situation in the country. In response to the question on death penalty still imposed in Belarus the speaker recalled the national referendum in which the majority of citizens stood for capital punishment. He also admitted that in the new House of Representatives a committee dealing with the issue has been established.
Mr Andrzej Zdrojewski MP, Chair of the EP Delegation for Relations with Belarus confirmed that following an official invitation by the authorities of the Republic of Belarus, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) deployed an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to observe the 11 September 2016 parliamentary elections. The elections were efficiently organized but, despite some first steps by the authorities, a number of long-standing systemic shortcomings remain. The constitutional and legal framework does not adequately guarantee the conduct of elections in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards, and a number of key long-standing OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe Venice Commission recommendations remain unaddressed. Therefore, the European Parliament in the resolution on the situation in Belarus stated that the progress made in Belarus is insufficient. The reform on the election law will be the key issue to further developments in the relations with Belarus.
The BSPC Standing Committee continued its discussion about the further procedure for the BSPC’s engagement with Belarus on the basis of the informations and contributions.
Priorities of the EU Chairmanship of HELCOM
Ms Marianne Wenning, Chair of HELCOM presented Priorities of the EU Chairmanship of HELCOM. She admitted that with regard to priority ”Reaching a healthy ecosystem in the Baltic Sea by 2021’ the new holistic assessment, HOLAS II, will reveal the Helcom countries efforts have led to improvements in the Baltic Sea environmental status, since HOLAS I in 2010. The results will be released by mid-2017 and updated by mid-2018. Pressures and impacts will be further quantified, including via the latest ‘Pollution Load Compilation’, allowing to evaluate progress towards the goals of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. This work will also help contracting parties that are EU Member States in fulfilling their obligations under EU marine legislation. Moreover, implementation of the regional action plan for marine litter will be a priority. In addition to the environmental benefits, this will also demonstrate the strength of Baltic regional cooperation in meeting global commitments. Ms. Wenning acknowledged that further synergies with regional or European governance frameworks will be sought, for instance with the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. She explained, that the adoption of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should strengthen ocean governance and Regional Sea Conventions, in particular HELCOM, should play a crucial role in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 on oceans and seas.
Progress report on the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region
Mr Peter Schenk from the European Commission, Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, who has principal responsibility for overseeing the EUSBSR briefed the meeting with recent developments in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. A Commission report on the implementation of macro-regional strategies was published on 16 December 2016, and the achievements and the challenges were analysed in the paper. The achievements had been: Increased political awareness of challenges and opportunities specific for the Baltic Sea Region; mobilisation of projects across borders (more than 120 Flagships); increased knowledge and joint initiatives; better coordination of existing networks and participation of neighbouring non-EU countries. Challenges are: Maintain commitment, mobilise funding and communicate results. In order to tackle the challenges with regard to communication, the Commission launched the Communication Strategy for the EUSBSR. With regard to funding, Managing Authorities Network received a support as a ‘pilot ‘of the ERDF. The second call for projects of the Interreg Baltic Sea Region programme, ‘Seed money projects’ and ‘targeted support’ to the implementation of the EUSBSR has been announced, and last but not least the EUSBSR funding portal has been created. Mr Schenk invited all participants to the 8th EUSBSR Annual Forum in Berlin, on 13/14 June 2017 which will be hosted by Germany – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the CPMR – Baltic Sea Commission and in close cooperation with the European Commission.
The 26th BSPC, Hamburg 3-5 September 2017, Working Group and Rapporteurs
BSPC President Carola Veit informed the Standing Committee on the progress of preparations of the upcoming Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Hamburg to realise a high-level political dialogue and to involve youth. Main themes of the conference will be democracy and participation, science and research as well as sustainable tourism.
The BSPC Working Group on Sustainable Tourism conducted a meeting in Brussels back-to-back to the meeting of the BSPC Standing Committee. On initiative of the Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein there will be organised again a Baltic Youth Parliamentary Forum 13-14 March 2017 in Kiel back-to-back with a meeting of the BSPC Working Group on Sustainable Tourism to discuss this issue with young people and give them the opportunity to develop recommendations for the resolution of the conference.
The BSPC Standing Committee appointed – additional to Sylvia Bretschneider, Mecklenburg Vorpommern – Saara-Sofia Sirén from the Finnish Parliament as Co-observer and Co-rapporteur to HELCOM.