The highest Executive Committee of the BSPC, led by the new President of the BSPC, Jörgen Pettersson, held its first meeting under the new Presidency in Mariehamn, the capital of Åland. Delegations from the Åland Islands, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Hamburg, Latvia, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the Russian Federation participated in the meeting.
Implementation of Resolutions
One focus was placed on the follow-up to the resolution of the 26th annual conference, which took place in Hamburg from 3 – 5 September 2017, and the reports by the national and regional governments about the implementation of the 25th BSPC resolution on the basis of political analyses. Follow-up statements to the 25th resolution have been received from 14 parliaments. They are more and more comprehensive and partially very detailed. The Standing Committee noted that this was a positive development but also pointed out that the statements should focus more on common international projects. All statements are published on the BSPC website.
Migration and Integration
With regard to one of the priorities in the current BSPC work programme under the Åland presidency and to a new BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration, Ms Johanna Fogelström, Integration Coordinator of the Government of Åland (Ålands Landskapsregering), and Ms Siv Ekström, Director of the Educational Centre for Adult Learning on Åland (Medborgarinstitutet), addressed the SC members at the beginning of the Standing Committee Meeting in a round of presentations about integration work on Åland. They provided detailed information regarding the intensive efforts of Åland to integrate foreigners into their society.
Ms Fogelström pointed out that more than one third of the population has been born outside Åland. 12% of the population – more than 20% of the persons aged 30 to 39 – have another mother tongue than Swedish. 11% are foreign citizens. 64 languages are registered. Focus areas of the integration policy from 2016 to 2019 are i.a. the Swedish language, education, employment, health and access to healthcare, promoting participation as well as good relations to prevent and pre-empt racism and discrimination. All relevant actors – the Åland government, the municipalities, the job centre, Åland healthcare, secondary school and vocational training, the Education Centre as well as civil society – are included. The future direction of the Åland migration policy is to continue and develop language training, assist in getting onto the job market, support entrepreneurs, especially start-ups, support by the civil society, more coordination and cooperation across municipalities as well as strengthening the knowledge in the health sector and access to healthcare services.
Ms Ekström gave a detailed survey about the intensive courses in Swedish for immigrants and the funding of the courses with a special view to courses for students with different alphabets or without reading skills, courses for employees and for refugees from the UNHCR’s resettlement programme.
A series of questions, which were answered by the experts, and a lively discussion underlined that the topic of migration is of the highest interest for the BSPC members.
The new BSPC rapporteur on culture, Karin Gaardsted, Denmark, informed about e-sports in the Baltic Sea region, because e-sports allow online and intercultural communication and meet-ups. Concerning both the topics of culture and youth, this is the world’s fastest-growing sport with an expected revenue in 2017 of $ 696 million. E-sports include a global audience of 385 million people, half of which is aged 21 to 35. 73% of the players and viewers are male. E-sports are still not recognized or accepted on the same level as more ‘traditional’ sports like soccer or tennis, but are instead associated with lazy teenagers in dark basements – a view that is far off from reality. The sport promotes concentration, teamwork, the ability to react fast, a strategic mindset and much more.
The Standing Committee underlined the importance of this topic and also had an energetic discussion on that issue, which is important for culture and youth.
27th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Mariehamn
BSPC President Jörgen Pettersson informed the Standing Committee about his talks with the former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, the Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä as well as the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, H.E. Mr. Edgars Rinkēvičs, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, H.E. Mr. Linas Linkevičius, on the upcoming 27th annual conference of the BSPC from 26 – 28 August 2018 in Mariehamn.
Further topics of the Standing Committee meeting were i.a. a Memorandum of Understanding between the BSPC and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economical Cooperation, which has been signed by the presidents and secretaries general of both institutions, as well as administrative issues.
Åland Islands and Lagting
As part of a visit to Kastelholm castle and to Bomarsund Fortress, the BSPC Standing Committee was given a deep insight into the history and current situation of Åland.
During the visit of the Parliament of Åland, BSPC President Pettersson shared details of the parliamentary practice in Ålands Lagting with the Standing Committee members.