Under the Chairmanship of BSPC President Jorodd Asphjell, the BSPC Standing Committee gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels on 21 February 2019 to inquire about the developments in the field of the European regional and maritime policy, to exchange information about current common issues with partner organizations and to prepare the upcoming Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Oslo.
Representatives and delegations of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and of the BSPC members from the Åland Islands, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Nordic Council, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, Schleswig-Holstein, and Sweden participated in the meeting.
The Standing Committee had a lively and intensive exchange of opinions with the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Boguslaw Liberadzki. On behalf of the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, Vice-President Liberadzki stressed that the meeting of the Standing Committee had a very high importance for the European Parliament. He reminded his audience of the fact that 40 years earlier, the Baltic Sea region had been filled with all kinds of divisions, including NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Economically, the OEEC and the COMECON had faced each other. Today’s processes are characterized by coming together, working together, bringing decision-makers closer together, bringing people and governments closer together, and step by step creating more stability and more cooperation. For the European Parliament in the capital of democracy, he said, it was important to meet regularly, to work together, to combine all different organizations related to Baltic Sea cooperation – people, parliaments, governments, non-governmental organizations and other institutions. The Baltic Sea was a joint value, a joint issue and sometimes a joint problem to be solved together. The meeting proved a good opportunity to get closer and deepen mutual relations.
The Standing Committee was also 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 fruitful cooperation between the BSPC and the European Parliament, good discussions and an exchange of views during previous years. He expressed his belief that a good dialogue would be continued.
Progress report on the new European Union Cohesion Policy
Mr Jean-Pierre Halkin from the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policyof the European CommissionMacro-regions, responsible for Transnational/Interregional cooperation, IPA, Enlargementof the European Commission, informed the Standing Committee on new developments in the EU Cohesion Policy and its impact on cross-border cooperation beyond the EU.
The speaker noted that he would touch on five key elements in his presentation: the evolution of the territorial cooperation – called Interreg -; the way they work with other countries; the evolution of macro-regional strategies, on which they had just presented a report for the Commission; some more specific aspects connected to the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region; concluding with some views on the way forward.
Considering a more global perspective of the cohesion policy, Mr Halkin noted that in May of the previous year, the Commission had proposed a set of new regulations to frame a new cohesion policy. There were some key elements worth reviewing, first of all that Europe was a continent of tremendous diversity. The various regions differed in terms of economic and social situations. Accordingly, the cohesion policy, affecting all regions of the European Union, had to be differentiated in order to provide responses which were tailor-made and supplied the European strategies which were combined with preconditions, to allow for a successful investment which would enable an increase of the EU’s and national investment. The end goal of that policy was to make these regions attractive places for their residents, for their workers, businesses as well as visitors – for everyone.
Mr Halkin emphasized this was about creating a Europe that truly empowered everyone, all the citizens, from the bottom to the national level and the regional level.
Territorial cooperation past 2020
For the new programming period, the Commission had proposed an enabling and flexible framework that would allow boosting the intervention and tailoring this to the specific context. There were two major evolutions in this proposal: One was a radical simplification, and the other was strengthening the connections between the cohesion policy and the European semester. Moreover, they had proposed a new dedicated policy objective, related to integrated territorial development: Policy Objective Five “Europe Closer to the Citizen”. This was a visible commitment by the Commission for integrated territorial development that underlined a distinctive territorial dimension of the cohesion policy. This was also called Interregio 5 and was open to all kinds of territories, such as notably rural areas but also cities, mountains as well as sparsely populated areas and islands.
Regarding changes in territorial cooperation, also described as ETC or Interreg, the speaker noted that territorial cooperation had always been branded as the most European part of the cohesion policy. This was because it was promoting stronger cooperation, building trust and confidence between European citizens, which was part of the European project but also exceeded the European Union as it was not only creating trust between the regions of the European Union but also with neighbouring regions.
The speaker went on to summarise the key elements driving the Commission in drafting this regulation, listing seven important points. First of all, they revisited the structure or architecture of the Interreg programmes so as to reduce the overlap between different Interreg programmes as well as minimize fragmentation. The second point was their goal to reinforce the strategic dimension of the new programmes to be developed, by linking them more strongly to existing strategic frameworks and policy initiatives, such as the macro-regional strategies. The third point was to radically simplify the implementation of Interreg programmes. Mr Halkin noted that these were already smaller than the so-called mainstream programmes, despite having similar complexities. As such, the transaction costs were higher by comparison. Therefore, they wanted to ensure that more resources could be dedicated to the substance, that better access would be available to smaller projects by reducing the administrative burden for these programmes. The fourth point was that they wanted to better recognise the maritime cooperation, by combining the connections seen at the trinational level with the very good activities carried out today by the maritime cross-border cooperation programmes. Here, they believed that more synergies could be proposed to continue these interventions such as to deliver more impact and more added value. Equally, the Commission also sought to further promote innovation and to root it better in the cohesion policy, by proposing an initiative for interregional initiative investment. This was a new component, he pointed out, for a legislative proposal which existed to boost investment in innovation through the regional policy, while also strengthening their commitment to the urban agenda, notably through the new policy objective five. Finally, another goal was to strengthen the rule of territorial cooperation to boost governance and administrative capacities.
Cooperation with Non-EU countries
Regarding the way his side was working with third countries, there was also a major innovation: For the first time, the ETC regulation was covering both the programmes implemented within the European Union and the CBC programmes implemented in such third countries. In other words, the same regulation covered both cooperation between EU-internal regions and with the countries in the neighbourhood which fell under the ENI CBC programmes. Furthermore, a new component had been adopted, dedicated specifically for the outermost regions, which the speaker conceded might be far from the BSPC’s concern.
Mr Halkin underlined that the Commission wanted to continue working with some countries that had been associated with the cohesion policy, referring particularly to Norway. Certainly, they would keep welcoming Norwegian participation in Interreg and equally would be delighted to hear about Norwegian intentions regarding their contributions to Interreg programmes.
Moving on to the third point, macro-regional strategies, the speaker related the conclusions from their last report, which had been published on 29 January, on the implementation of the four macro-regional strategies. First of all, they were pleased that this had become an integral part of the EU policy framework, going well beyond the regional policies, as evidenced by the attendance of the key event for the strategy. This attendance had included commissioners and vice-presidents. Many regions had been represented by the senior management level. He noted that Commission services were contributing more and more to the implementation of the strategies.
He appreciated that the strategies were offering not only a multi-sectoral but also multi-country governance and also involved third countries on a level playing field. This, Mr Halkin said, was part of the added value of macro-regional strategies.
Considering the European Union policy for the Baltic Sea region, EUSBSR, he pointed out that this had been the first strategy to be adopted. It was also the largest and had produced very concrete results which had also been presented in the same report, accompanied by a staff working document including a strategic component. On that aspect, he offered his gratitude to everyone contributing to the report. To the BSPC, he said that this was also their report as the substance very much reflected the BSPC’s work.
For the Baltic Sea strategy, two opportunities were coming up, as Mr Halkin said. The first was to ensure that the strategies were used as a strategic framework to guide the programming of all EU funds in the regions. This was very important. The new regulation provided for such an alignment to be promoted, notably allowing cooperation to be supported by all regional programmes, mainstream programmes – outside of the member states, outside of the regions, outside of the European Union. He underlined that this was another way to promote cooperation. Nonetheless, the Commission would like this opportunity of aligning the funds with the strategy available to all existing EU funds, but in particular for the one in shared management where the BSPC was in the driving seat for the programming.
The second opportunity was the revision of the Action Plan of the Baltic Sea Region. Tremendous progress had been made on all priority areas. Now, there was an opportunity to bolster the programming as well as the action plan to better fit the expectations of the citizens, by defining more clearly which resources would be committed and also what the intended tangible results would be by 2027. At the end, he also saw a call to do more for the strategies, both from the side of the Commission and also on the part of the member states. Strategies were integral processes. As such, it was important to maintain the political commitment from all member states, participating in this strategy. This was something very important, he stressed, pointing out that the strategies were not technocratic but political processes. Without political processes, the metaphorical bicycle would stop.
The Commission was confident that they could rely on the support from all member states to better align the funds and work hard with the governance. Here, major progress had been seen to better associate the grassroots level of the strategies. Any additional step in order to lend more participation to the citizen, to the strategy was welcome. Mr Halkin noted that the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region was well-known and supported by the citizens. In some member states, even 60 per cent of the citizenry was aware of the presence of the Strategy, which he pointed out was quite an achievement. The goal should be to build on that support to strengthen the governance.
The final point the speaker mentioned was to build a better monetary framework, allowing them to produce convincing and tangible results.
He concluded his presentation by reiterating that he would welcome any suggestions for the way forward and thanked the Standing Committee for listening to him.
Progress Report from the CBSS
Ambassador Juris Bone, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Ambassador-at-Large of Latvia, informed the Standing Committee about the course of implementation of the program of the Lithuanian presidency at the CBSS. He admitted that the Latvian CBSS presidency had been very pragmatic with a calendar full of events and activities. He mentioned that at the same time in Riga, two important events were taking place, one a conference on human trafficking attended not only by CBSS member states but also by countries such as the United Kingdom or the United States. The second important event was the high-level meeting on the Baltic Sea Science Days in Riga, a CBSS tradition that had started in Saint Petersburg, continued in Finland and now in Latvia.
He reminded the meeting of the three priorities they had established for their presidency. The first had been integrity in societal security. Human trafficking was one aspect, but Mr Bone considered as most important establishing a culture of a secure society by working together. This priority accordingly also included cooperation on tackling organised crime. Latvia had been the presiding country until the end of the preceding year, and the presidency had been taken over since by two countries, Poland and Germany. Another priority had been responsibility, related to the sustainable development goals set by the Baltic Sea 2030 Action Plan. It had also been very successful. One challenge was related to this priority, namely the future view of the CBSS working group on sustainable development. The mandate of this group had been very wide, although it was looking at what exactly it should focus on in the future. Mr Bone noted that its most recent meeting had only been a few days earlier. The third priority was dialogue, specifically focussing on the protection of cultural heritage. Dialogue was necessary among experts and stakeholders, to talk about heritage preservation systems, including such for recent cultural heritage, as well as contemporary measures and technologies to find models that would best serve to protect cultural heritage for the future. In that regard, he was glad to mention an important event coming up in May: The ambassador said that it was a happy coincidence that the Latvian National Library received project money from the CBSS’s project support facility, allowing it to organize an important regional conference on the protection and digitalization of cultural heritage. The Latvian organisation responsible for the protection of heritage, the National Heritage Board, had worked hard on this regional cultural heritage group. They were also knocking on the doors of those countries which were not yet members of this working group. Recently, he added, the Latvian Minister of Culture had sent letters to Iceland, Russia, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, inviting them to join the group.
The Latvian Presidency had had one very specific aspect in its work, noting that it was always a difficult presidency when reform processes were ongoing, as was the case here. At a meeting of foreign ministers in Stockholm in June of the preceding year, the CBSS had been tasked to present a roadmap to achieve tangible results of reforms. The Committee of Senior Officials was currently working on that process, with some first results already achieved. Ambassador Bone said it was clear that the CBSS could not operate in the same way as it had done since 1992 because the environment had changed very much. All the strategic interests were different as was the political context.
One point agreed upon was, the speaker stated, that in the future, the presidencies would have more flexibility to decide on political meetings at the end of each term. The reason for that was that until 2013/2014, it had been a precondition to have a Prime Ministers Meeting in the first year, a Foreign Ministers Meeting in the second. Yet considering the last meetings of foreign ministers, in Reykjavik and Stockholm, the interest had proved to be diminishing. This issue had to be tackled. One solution was to provide the previously mentioned flexibility in the presidency, allowing it to fight for political meetings to be possible.
Another point discussed was how to balance the political dialogue and practical cooperation as the two main pillars of the CBSS. There were diverging views, the discussion was still ongoing. It was quite clear, the ambassador said, that practical cooperation would most likely have a greater role, but the question was how to define this. Some countries understood this as cooperation between line ministries, while others saw this as cooperation between NGOs and people-to-people contacts. He affirmed that the CBSS would maintain its role as an organisation of political dialogue.
Finally, Ambassador Bone announced that the Latvian Presidency of the CBSS had the intention to organise, as a concluding event of its term, a meeting of foreign ministers in Riga. It had been discussed at the working level of senior officials. While there was always the challenge of finding a common date, their intentions were firm to continue this tradition.
Conservation and sustainable use of the oceans
Director Bernhard Friess of the Directorate-General Mare, responsible for Maritime Policy and Blue Economy, informed the Standing Committee on that particular subject area.
He mentioned that at the same time, the meeting of the national coordinators of the European Union Baltic Sea Strategy was taking place in Brussels.
Mr Friess began his presentation by underlining a dire environmental situation depicted by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change). The organisation had prepared a report on the seas and oceans mandated by the European Commission which would be released in September 2019. Unfortunately, the report confirmed the common knowledge that the sea level rise was happening very fast. The IPCC estimated that already at certain levels, an increase of 60 cm around the world would be unavoidable. That trend could not be stopped because the emissions would not be reduced quickly enough. Therefore, an even greater rise of sea levels, one meter or more, should be expected. The IPCC predicted that already in the current century – of which a quarter would have passed in only 5 years -, climate change would happen very quickly. It would affect the cities around the Baltic Sea, and all the coral reefs would be lost due to temperature rise. The speaker warned that those facts should be better known and taken into consideration when discussing the macroeconomic process.
Concerning the maritime economy, the speaker informed his audience that if the global ocean economy were compared to the national economies, then it would be the 7thlargest national economy globally. In Europe, the maritime economy was of significant size, employing up to 5 million people across Europe. It was more extensive than many industrial sectors and with as high a profile as the defence sector or aviation sector.
In July of the previous year, the Commission had published the first Report on the Maritime Economy – The 2018 annual economic report on the EU blue economy –, showing some trends, based on ten years of statistical data. Many of the traditional maritime sectors such as shipping, ports, shipbuilding had not been performing quite so well compared to the general economy. Good economic performance had been achieved in the so-called maritime blue economy – fishing, agriculture, bio-economy products. Those sectors were outperforming the broad general economy, especially regarding innovative industries, such as blue renewable technology and wind energy. Many jobs had been created there, and growth was high.
The Baltic Sea Region a model region of cooperation
Mr Friess confirmed that the BSR was in many ways a model for others. It was because the collaboration had started many years ago. During the Swedish presidency of the EU, the idea of launching the Baltic Sea Strategy had been created. Since then, there had been attempts to create similar cooperation in other regions of Europe. The speaker admitted, however, that there was still more space for creating cooperation in the BSR. In 2017, the Commission had prepared a study based on consultations with many stakeholders to identify four areas in which collaboration in maritime issues would be particularly beneficial. The document Towards an Implementation Strategy for the Sustainable Blue Growth Agenda for the Baltic Sea Region focused on shipping, the blue bio-economy, coastal and maritime tourism and environmental technologies, and it had shown that there was a massive set of opportunities for joint investment into some of those sectors.
Mr Friess further referred to ocean energy sources. He stated that ocean energy not only meant offshore wind but also more innovative technologies set up to creative electricity from ocean waves or tide currents. The speaker reported that in both areas, companies from the Scandinavian region and the Baltic Sea area were very advanced, and some were quite successful. The maritime department of the European Commission which he represented was helping to introduce those technologies into the market and make the sector one of the essential renewable industries in the European Energy mix. He mentioned that a lot of EU support had been given to promote research and to develop technologies. Still more had to be done to raise captive investment because, in spite of suitable conditions for captive investment, the revenue model was the main obstacle for many investors. A good practice example was the offshore wind industry which had been propelled to a unique level globally. As much as 90 % of all wind energy generators were installed in Europe. This was possible because governments had adopted revenue support policies acceptable for investors. The speaker called for a clearer political message to bring new innovative, environmentally friendly, marine energies into the market. The governments needed to provide the framework in terms of the regulatory environment that would allow developers to have some amount of certainty about the revenue treatment in the next few years. He mentioned the offshore industry as the model that could be used for other sectors of innovative maritime investments.
The maritime economy in the framework of the EUSBSR
Concerning the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, Mr Friess expressed his opinion that more could be done under that strategy in terms of cooperation in maritime issues. The most innovative of the companies and their activities were hampered due to poor availability of capital for investment in early-stage companies. In the Commission, work was undertaken to set up an early-stage maritime blue economy investment fund for innovative companies across the Baltic, active in biotechnology as well as underwater technologies and environmental technologies, in cooperation with the Luxemburg-based European Investment Bank. The speaker also mentioned the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund which was supporting an exciting project called Baltic SCOPE. This project was bringing together the Maritime Spatial Planning authorities and Regional Sea Organizations in the Baltic Sea Area with the goal of developing the planning solutions to transboundary issues and improving the Maritime Spatial Planning processes. Another project supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was the project aimed at reducing plastic waste and other hazardous substances. The speaker drew attention to the fact that plastic waste and pollution influenced fish stocks and undercounted the economy basis for the maritime sector. Therefore, protecting the marine environment was not only an investment worth itself but should be perceived as a factor which could yield economic benefit. He gave an example of the state of the fishery in the northern part of Europe, e.g. the Atlantic Sea, the North Sea and part of the Baltic Sea. In a period of 10 years, the fishery had moved gradually from overfishing to sustainable fishing. Currently, nearly all the fish stock in the Atlantic was caught by sustainable methods, and the economic performance of the fishing industries in that area had improved. Mr Friess concluded that there was a parallel between more sustainability and more profit. Sustainability was an investment. That applied not only to fisheries but to all sectors.
He closed his speech by inviting participants to the event on the sustainable maritime economy in particular regarding the role small ports were playing in the Baltic Sea. The event would be organised together with the Latvian presidency of the CBSS, 3-4 April in Riga.
Carola Veit, Vice-Chair, of the BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration informed the Standing Committee about the activities of the Working Group.
The WG had held its fourth meeting in Kiel and had agreed to hold its next meeting in Kaliningrad on 28 and 29 March 2019. The next but one meeting in Schwerin would take place on 27 and 28 May 2019 in combination with a Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum. It would be very fruitful to come together with the youths on the same topic. The autumn meeting, she went on, would be planned to take place in Hamburg at the end of October, back-to-back with the European Forum on Integration of Migrants and Refugees in Vocation, Education into the Labour Market and Society. This was the beginning of a new forum by the EU SBSR, as part of the strategy.
The Standing Committee and Working Group had decided to commission a political science analysis on the statements and answers of the governments to the survey of the Working Group. The Migration Institute of Finland – based in Turku – had been tasked with the analysis and would present the results of the study to the Standing Committee at its meeting in Turku. Ms Veit also reminded the participants that the Standing Committee had extended the mandate of the BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration by another year. With this in mind, the Working Group had decided to present a 2ndinterim report at the Annual Conference in Oslo.
The BSPC Rapporteur on Labour Market and Social Welfare, Pyry Niemi(Sweden), informed the meeting that the preparations for the organisation of a seminar had started and that the topic of a social pillar reflecting on social protection and inclusion would be discussed at the beginning of 2020.
The BSPC Rapporteur on Integrated Maritime Policy and BSPC Vice-President, Jörgen Pettersson(Åland Islands), commented on the processes of the policies and legislation.
He gave the example of the sulphur directive implemented in 2015 which had been heavily criticised by both shipping companies and policymakers. There had been fears that the directive would trigger a modal shift from environmental transportation on the sea to tracks and roads.
Today, everybody was aware of sustainability and the need for environmental legislation. In the Baltic Sea, ever since 2015, ships were using low-sulphur fuels, leading to a reduction of air pollution. The air was cleaner especially in those cities close to the various ports. People were able to live longer today than before 2015. The same regulations, the speaker noted, would be implemented all over the world after 2020, thanks to the respective decision by the IMO. Accordingly, one could claim that the world would be a little bit cleaner due to the legislation on the initiative by the IMO. However, Mr Pettersson cautioned, this was not that easy a situation because the increasing world trade meant more oil was being used – more oil today than ever before -, and it would continue to rise. The only years that this did not happen was after the financial crisis. Apart from that, the curve of oil consumption was going up, and all of that oil was being transported at sea. Moreover, the ordinary trade, such as telephones, cars, clothes and much more, was increasing as well. Despite all of this rise in trade traffic, though, there was the expectation that pollution would be reduced thanks to the IMO regulations. In one way, Mr Pettersson considered this a relief but also a sign that the world was far from stopping. It continued, and world trade was growing. The maritime policy-makers, though, had made it clear that it was not as financially sound to use fossil fuel for engines these days; accordingly, the engine manufacturers all over the world were doing what they could to use less and less fuel for their engines. Additionally, more and more ships these days were using natural gas than ever. Furthermore, sails were also increasingly brought back into use on modern ships. For example, shipping giants had installed sails on tankers so as to evaluate the effect of the sails. Apart from this engine and the fuels used by ships in world trade, deliberations were also considering more automatic procedures, such as auto-mooring which basically consisted of a large magnet binding ships to the quay instead of ropes. Autonomous ships were another goal being worked towards, promoted by legislation in some parts of the world, for instance Finland. The country had test areas where it was allowed to use autonomous ships without the risk of harming people. Finland has also come up with legislation allowing ships to be piloted from shore instead of on board.
In summary, Mr Pettersson noted that shipping was proving to be a very interesting branch in the present day. Much was happening, despite it usually being considered a very traditional business where investments were extremely long-term, ten to twenty years. That had changed. In one way, this was unfortunate, because it was difficult for the ship owners to plan for their investments. On the other hand, it was good because it had forced ship owners to adjust to new legislations, therefore making the world a little bit cleaner than it had been before.
The 28thBaltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Oslo 25 – 27 August 2018
BSPC President Jorodd Asphjell briefed the Standing Committee that the 28thBaltic Sea Parliamentary Conference would be held in the Plenary Hall of the Norwegian Parliament. The speaker of the Storing had agreed to open the conference. The programme was under intense development. He mentioned that Oslo was that year’s green capital of Europe, with many good current projects and activities which could be presented on the first day of the conference. The themes for the conference, which would be aligned with the BSPC priorities based on the Strategy and Work Programme 2018/2019, would be:
- Peaceful and Close Neighbourliness
- The Future of Working Life
- The UN Development Goals
- Migration and Integration.
BSPC Presidency after 2019 and appointment of a further Vice-President to be nominated by Lithuania
Lithuania will host the BSPC 2020 and therefore, according to the BSPC rules, proposed Mr Valerijus Simulik, the head of the Lithuanian delegation to the Baltic Assembly and the BSPC as well as Vice-President of the Baltic Assembly.
The Standing Committee unanimously appointed Mr Valerijus Simulik as the Vice-President of the BSPC.
Further topics of the Standing Committee meeting among others included the issue of and deepening the cooperation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation on the basis of the joint Memorandum of Understanding.