Under the Chairmanship of BSPC President Jörgen Pettersson, the BSPC Standing Committee gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels on 22 February 2018 to inquire about the latest issues of European policy, to exchange information about current common issues with partner organisations and to prepare the upcoming Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Mariehamn.
Representatives and delegations of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, HELCOM, Interreg Baltic Sea Region Managing Authority, and of the BSPC members from the Åland Islands, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Latvia, Lithuania, the Nordic Council, Norway, the Russian Federation and Sweden participated in the meeting.
The Standing Committee was greeted by Mr Jørn Dohrmann, 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 Dohrmann emphasized the importance of inter-parliamentary cooperation and political dialogue in the Baltic Sea Region as can only be achieved by a joint effort common goals. He mentioned that the European Parliament had also hosted the Fifth Northern Dimension Parliamentary Forum where President Pettersson had represented the BSPC. The participants of the Fifth Northern Dimension Parliamentary Forum had adopted a statement highlighting the importance of practical regional cooperation in sustainable development, public health and social well-being, culture, environmental protection, logistics, connectivity and transport. The statement had also mentioned the huge importance of addressing the urgent environmental challenges of the Baltic Sea Region and called on all the Baltic Sea states and the EU to take measures and actions to improve the quality of their waste-water effluents and to clean up the heavily polluted sea.
The Impact of Brexit on the Baltic Sea Region
Mr Werner Kuhn, MEP, in his presentation The Impact of Brexit on the Baltic Sea Region – in Particular with Regard to Fisheries Policy, reminded his audience of the referendum held on Thursday 23 June 2016 to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. ‘Leave’ won by 51.9% to 48.1%. The referendum turnout had been 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. As the result of that, Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty had been triggered, starting negotiations over a withdrawal agreement. The UK was expected to leave the EU in March 2019. The negotiated draft deal would have to be approved by the European Council, requiring the approval from at least 20 countries with 65% of the population. The next step would be the ratification of the draft deal by the European Parliament. Mr Kuhn pointed out that the primary objective for the Brexit negotiations was the protection of the good future of the remaining EU27. The anticipated impact on the industrial sector might manifest as GDP depreciation, less investments and a slowdown of domestic demand in some areas. A high impact was predicted for such branches as automotive, chemicals, paper energy, machinery and equipment, agri-food, construction; moderate and low impacts were predicted for IT services, pharmaceuticals, aeronautics and transport. Another challenge was related to the fact that 51.4% of British goods were headed to the EU, while 6.6% of the EU goods were exported to the UK. Among the countries that might be affected most were Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland. Another issue was the migration of skilled employees, as approx. 600,000 skilled workers were planning to ‘brain drain’ out of the UK, most with a view to go to Germany. The next issue of great importance was payments requested and offered in connection with the UK leaving the EU. The opening request by the EU was 60–100 billion Euro, against 40-55 billion of the UK government’s offer. During phase 1, three main issues had been negotiated by Michel Barnier, European Chief Negotiator for Brexit: the UK’s outstanding financial obligations – „the UK bill“ –, the rights of EU27 citizens in the UK versus the rights of UK citizens in the EU27 and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
With regard to fisheries, Mr Kuhn noted that the situation was still unclear. After Brexit,
EU-UK relations would be governed by international law, such as for instance UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea –1982), UNFSA (United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement –1995), and the EU-UK trade relations would be subject to WTO terms.
There would be control over territorial waters (200 nautical miles), shared stock management and settlement provisions. Among the biggest challenges of the future EU-UK fisheries agreement, Mr Kuhn mentioned: around 100 shared fish stocks and their joint management, reciprocal access to waters and resources and the impact on the market for fish and seafood. He said that the negotiations were both crucial and difficult because the UK-EU fisheries relationship was very intensive as both sides were each other’s most important partners. Ending his presentation, the speaker underlined that currently at least three possible frameworks for fisheries relations could be taken into account – firstly, SFPA (Sustainable Fisheries Partnership agreement) including buying access and technical assistance; secondly, a Northern agreement enveloping Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, as a loose framework with informal negotiations, and, finally, very informal Coastal State consultations. However, it was also possible that none of the existing EU fisheries agreements would be suitable, concluded the speaker.
Progress Report from the CBSS
Ambassador Hans Olsson, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Council of the Baltic Sea States as well as Ambassador of Sweden, gave an overview of the recent developments within the CBSS’ working areas as well as proposed points of collaboration between the CBSS and BSPC. With regard to Sustainable Development and Climate Change, the Ambassador informed the audience that the Baltic 2030 Unit was currently preparing an analysis on Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on the common challenges and discrepancies across the Baltic Sea countries (including Russia), with the goal of creating a regional dialogue. The speaker proposed an annual CBSS-BSPC event to discuss how to coherently implement SDGs and environmental agendas across the region. In addition, on behalf of Baltic 2030, he invited the BSPC to participate in ReGeneration 2030 – a joint initiative by the NCM and the CBSS, focusing on youth engagement in the Agenda 2030, which will take place on 18-20 August 2018 in Mariehamn. Finally, he invited the BSPC to nominate their representative to the BSR Climate Dialogue Platform. With regard to economic issues including labour, science, research and maritime topics, Ambassador Olsson recommended closer cooperation on labour, employment and migration issues, e.g. reinforcing the BSPC’s interaction with the Baltic Sea Labour Forum, jointly using the Policy Recommendations Paper, including points from the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference’s (25th BSPC) Resolution, as well as proposals from the BSLF members, taking part in events and projects carried out by the BSLF. He also invited the BSPC to nominate their representative to the renewed CBSS Expert Group on Maritime Policy, focusing on a sustainable maritime economy, the Blue Growth Agenda and a cross-sector approach between governments, academia and businesses. Ambassador Olsson reported that in 2017, a major achievement in the civil security area had been the adoption of the Joint Position on Enhancing Cooperation in Civil Protection Area at the 15th Meeting of the Directors General for the Civil Protection in the Baltic Sea Region, held in Keflavik (Iceland) on 12 May 2017. The document set out a long-term perspective for enhanced cooperation between national authorities responsible for civil protection in the Baltic Sea region. In the field of culture, education and youth, the speaker remarked that contact with the BSPC in this regard had been established and both organisations might use the opportunity for further cooperation, for instance on cultural heritage which would be a priority of both the incoming Latvian presidency of the CBSS (2018-2019) and the EU (European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018). Ambassador Olsson underlined that the CBSS recognized a great foundation for the development of the dialogue and collaboration between CBSS and BSPC, hoping for a positive response to the invitation for new collaboration points. He offered his thanks for the invitation to the 27th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Mariehamn.
Progress Report on the activities of HELCOM
Ms Marianne Wenning, Chairlady of HELCOM, presented the current state of the implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan 2021 and pointed out that not much time was left for completing the plan. The Action Plan had been structured around a set of Ecological Objectives used to define indicators and targets, including effect-based nutrient input ceilings, and to monitor implementation. To the four main objectives of the BSAP – 1) a Baltic Sea unaffected by eutrophication 2) a Baltic Sea undisturbed by hazardous substances 3) a Baltic Sea with environmentally friendly maritime activities and 4) a favourable conservation status of Baltic Sea biodiversity –, three new issues were added: seabed disturbance, underwater noise and marine litter. Ms Wenning noted that during the European Union Chairmanship of HELCOM, the State of the Baltic Sea 2017 Report had been presented. This holistic assessment, covering and linking within one conceptual framework all important ecosystem components and pressures from human activities, as well as social and economic analysis, was based on over 30 core indicators. Various ecosystem components had been analysed: pelagic and benthic habitats, fish, seals, birds which had been subjected to various pressures: eutrophication, hazardous substances, alien species, extraction of fish through commercial fishing, marine litter, underwater sound, and seabed disturbance. Regrettably, the graph shown by Ms Wenning indicated mainly a poor state of the Baltic Sea. For instance, the Baltic Sea was still highly affected by eutrophication, even though phosphorous and nitrogen inputs – causing eutrophication – had been reduced significantly. There were some positive signs regarding the status, though, such as a decrease in nutrient concentrations and improved water clarity in parts of the Baltic Sea. That would indicate that several measures to improve the status of the Baltic Sea were operating but might not be sufficiently comprehensive or had not been in place long enough to have an effect. Furthermore, she admitted that the Baltic Sea Action Plan had not yet been fully implemented. About 70% of the agreed joint regional actions in the Plan had been carried out. Regarding actions to be implemented on a national level, the corresponding number was between 35% and 60% depending on the country. If all agreed actions of the Baltic Sea Action Plan were to be taken, this would bring about increased human welfare and economic benefits to citizens in the coastal countries, as evidenced in the State of the Baltic Sea report. Ms Wenning emphasized that total losses due to eutrophication had been estimated at 3.8 – 4.4 billion euros annually for the Baltic Sea region. In other words, citizens’ welfare would increase by this much each year if a good eutrophication status was achieved. Similarly, recreation values would increase by 1 – 2 billion euros each year in a good state of the environment. The speaker noted that HELCOM had been considering the results of the assessment in order to plan further steps. The Ministerial Meeting under the EU Chairmanship in HELCOM on 6 March 2018 would be an opportunity to strengthen existing commitments and determine new important areas of action.
Progress Report on the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region
Mr Peter Schenk from the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission presented a number of assessment reports on the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. He reported that the First Commission Report on the implementation of all four macro-regional strategies had been adopted by the European Commission in 2016 and followed by Council Conclusions in April 2017, the Committee of the Regions’ opinion in November 2017, and the European Parliament resolution in January 2018. The report provided an assessment of the state of implementation of the current strategies and took stock of the main results achieved to date. It presented a number of recommendations on possible developments of the strategies and their action plans, also in the light of the future cohesion policy. Mr Schenk referred to the recent study ‘Macro-regional strategies and their links with cohesion policy’, contracted by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, aimed first at describing the main features of each macro-region (Baltic, Danube, Adriatic and Ionian, and Alpine) through a range of macroeconomic, competitiveness, integration and governance indicators. It assessed to what extent the strategies were contributing to coordination and synergies between European Structural and Investment Funds and other EU policies and instruments. The study looked at the potential of the macro-regional approach to contribute to the future cohesion policy and was composed of five documents: one core report summarizing the main findings of the study and one annex per strategy compiling data and conclusions concerning each of them. The main findings of the study were: the EUSBSR had set the relevant objectives, addressing relevant needs, with meaningful achievements both in terms of content and process. The funding of the strategy projects had been accomplished mainly by Interreg, but also by other EU funding sources. Nonetheless, there was a need for more strategic alignment between the MRSs and ESIF (regulatory framework and programming stages). The recommendations referred to the need for cross-sectoral and cross-territorial coordination in any new EU policy and in EU funds; better support for matchmaking between transnational collaboration proposals and funding (MA networks). Mr Schenk mentioned a number of important events and future initiatives such as a High-level Group meeting on Macro-Regional Strategies in 2017, the ongoing preparation of a 2nd Commission Report on the implementation of all four macro-regional strategies, to be launched by the end of 2018, ongoing preparation of the Communication “Update and implementation of the Communication Strategy for the EUSBSR”. In closing, he invited the participants to the EUSBSR Annual Forum on 4/5 June 2018 in Tallinn and to the 10th anniversary of the EUSBSR Forum in Gdansk in 2019.
Added Value of Transnational Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region
Ms Susanne Scherrer, Director of the Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat in Rostock, Kiel and Riga pointed out that Interreg transnational cooperation programmes had been operational for more than 20 years, implementing actions in the framework of the EU Cohesion Policy. An informal working group including representatives from transnational programmes and interregional programmes had recently elaborated a document identifying the role and achievements of Interreg transnational programmes. Ms Scherrer presented selected examples of the achievements of transnational cooperation particularly relevant to the Baltic Sea region. She informed her listeners that Interreg transnational cooperation as a part of the EU cohesion policy consisted of 105 cooperation programmes with a total budget of 10.1 billion euros of cohesion funds. Interreg Baltic Sea Region was one of 15 transnational cooperation programmes including 74 projects carried out by 1000 partners. Thereafter, Ms Scherrer presented examples of projects which responded to transnational cooperation goals. With regard to the goal of reducing disparity, she mentioned the project Science Link and Baltic Tram which created a network of large-scale neutron and photon labs. The network provided more even access to research and innovation structures. With regard to tackling challenges across borders, the project Baltic InteGrid responded to the need for a better use of offshore wind energy production. Ms Scherrer pointed out that currently less than 15% of its capacity for offshore wind energy production was used in the BSR, due to missing connections between electricity grids, gaps in R&D and insufficient cooperation. Interreg connected energy operators, industry, policy makers, authorities and academia from all Baltic Sea countries. The projects CHEMsea and DAIMON helped authorities to improve their services in dealing with tons of munitions dumped into the sea after WWI and II. Ms Scherrer underlined the fact that Interreg TN funding was decisive for making macro-regional strategies work and enabled cooperation with Russia. She concluded that there was great potential for even more cooperation across the Baltic Sea Region.
The 27th BSPC in Mariehamn
The Standing Committee then was informed by BSPC President Jörgen Pettersson on the progress of preparations for the upcoming 27th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference. The main themes of the conference would be sustainable societies in the Baltic Sea region, cooperation and integration. As possible subthemes, he mentioned “The Baltic Sea as our lifeline” and the state of the Baltic Sea regarding the environmental state as well as maritime policies – sustainability and circular economics. Mr Pettersson also noted topics being considered for another session: the Baltic Sea labour market challenges in a time of growing urbanization or sustainable energy, smart energy distribution platforms. He also underlined the importance of involving young people and their views in the work of the BSPC. In keeping with the tradition of the BSPC, he will therefore give two representatives of the Youth Summit Regeneration 2030, which was previously mentioned by the CBSS, the opportunity to contribute the results of this youth conference, which ideally will take place from 18 to 20 August 2018 on the Aland Islands, to the annual conference.
The BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration
The meeting also discussed the follow-up to the 26th resolution and the activities of the BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration. The Standing Committee appointed Hans Wallmark from the Swedish Parliament as Chairman of the WG, who will be represented by Pyry Niemi from the Swedish Parliament if unable to attend. The Standing Committee had also been informed about the first WG meeting in Hamburg and a survey elaborated by the Vice-Chair of the WG, Carola Veit, on the basis of the deliberations in the WG to be answered by the governments. The Standing Committee expressed its appreciation of Carola Veit’s commitment to the Working Group.
The BSPC Rapporteur on Culture
The BSPC rapporteur on culture, Karin Gaardsted, Denmark, reported on a number of meetings and events conducted mainly in Denmark with a view to learning more about e-sports. She also informed her audience that a short questionnaire had been prepared referring to the government’s involvement in e-sports, the organization of e-sports, talent development, e-sports and the school system, the perception of and view on e-sports, job opportunities in the e-sports business as well as obstacles and challenges for e-sports. The Standing Committee supported that the questionnaire should be sent to the governments. The answers would serve as a basis for the further deliberations on this topic.
- The Impact of Brexit on the Baltic Sea Region – Werner Kuhn
- CBSS Briefing to the BSPC Standing Committee
- HELCOM Priorities under the EU Chairmanship 2016-2018 – Marianne Wenning
- EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region – Peter Schenk
- Transnational cooperation in the Baltic Sea region – Susanne Scherrer
- Presentation of rapporteurship on cultural affairs – KARIN GAARDSTED