Facing the Sea-Change in Politics
With contributions from high-level representatives and partner organisations, the 32nd BSPC Conference reaffirmed the realisation of the deep changes wrought by the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and the need for reinforced resilience by the democratic nations of the Baltic Sea region, on the levels of defence, energy self-sufficiency, economy as well as society and in the digital sphere.
Strengthening the Resilience of the Democratic Baltic Sea Region.
BSPC President and head of the German Bundestag delegation Johannes Schraps welcomed the 32nd Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference to the Bundestag plenary hall. He called on the delegates to deepen Baltic Sea cooperation and to set a decisive course for a better future of the Baltic Sea region and beyond.
Welcome Address by Ms Bärbel Bas, President of the German Bundestag
President of the German Bundestag Bärbel Bas welcomed the delegates, pointing out that Berlin had once been a member of the Hanseatic League. She underlined the importance of the Baltic Sea region for her and the entire German Bundestag. In that respect, she thanked Mr Schraps for guiding the BSPC during an unusually tumultuous period. This was marked by the brutal attack of Russia on Ukraine which had led to a rupture within the BSPC as the Russian delegations left and the democratic countries jointly condemned the assault. Ms Bas highlighted her close cooperation with her Ukrainian counterpart, Mr Ruslan Stefanchuk, and her own visit to Kyiv. It was crucial to her that the support for Ukraine must not wane. The democratic nations had to – and would – stand by Ukraine. After Russia’s departure from the Baltic Sea institutions, it was important for the other countries to cooperate ever more closely, both within the BSPC and the CBSS. Other cooperation formats were thriving, such as the EU and NATO. The accession of Finland and soon Sweden was reinforcing the alliance and the deterrence.
Ms Bas highlighted the importance of the BSPC as discussing not just across country borders but also across parliamentary groups. Parliamentarians were closer to the citizens’ needs and wants than governments. Furthermore, the Bundestag president saw the strength of the BSPC in bringing together regional and national parliaments as well as international organisations. This had made the BSPC a particularly valuable format of dialogue, for now more than thirty years.
The topic of this conference, the democratic and digital resilience, was vital because the openness of democratic societies made them vulnerable to attacks from enemies of democracy. Propaganda, hatred, and misinformation was spreading rapidly via social media and Telegram channels. Democrats had to defend themselves, online and offline. In that, they needed a strict prosecution with all the means provided by democratic law; platform and channel operators had to be held accountable; it was necessary to learn from each other about the most important strategies. Especially the Baltic Sea region was frequently the target of hybrid attacks, yet she cited a media study showing that these countries were leading in media competency. The best source of resilience was the citizens themselves. Well-informed citizens were needed to defend against disinformation, along with strengthened political involvement. Therefore, she appreciated the inclusion of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum’s participants and their ideas in this conference.
Bundestag-President Bas called the Baltic Sea region a key area in Europe in which some of the decisions in the most important policy fields were made, such as climate change and the protection of maritime ecosystems. It was crucial to defend the Baltic Sea region as a place of good neighbourliness.
BSPC President Johannes Schraps reiterated on the democratic parliaments’ condemnation of the brutal depravities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, trampling on the principles that had been cornerstones of peace and stability for many decades. The reactions and decisions in the democratic nations were illustrated by the term “Zeitenwende”, coined by German chancellor Olaf Scholz. Division and fragmentation had to be avoided, and unity had to be the signal to the world. The BSPC had done so by recently reforging the foundation of cooperation, reacting clearly and consistently to the Russian war of aggression. Despite fundamental differences in some issues, the BSPC had continued to find unanimous decisions. These times of several crises were a turning point for this generation, requiring fundamental rethinking in societies.
As such, in the past year, the BSPC had dealt mainly with climate change and biodiversity, sea-dumped ammunition in the Baltic Sea, and the strengthening of youth participation. He highlighted the efforts to remove the ammunition, developing new technologies, and that this problem had to be tackled right away. On climate change, he stressed recent breakthroughs on the expansion of marine protected areas, the renaturation of peatlands. The BSPC had kept its word in carrying the voice of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum into its resolution and its calls to governments.
Not least through cooperating with HELCOM and the CBSS, the BSPC had shown that it was present. It had realised what it had set out to do: that the parliamentary dimension of cooperation in the Baltic Sea region was and would remain a motor for further development, direction and setting an example far beyond.
Addresses by Representatives of other Parliamentary Assemblies, International Guests and BSPC Observer Organisations
Ms Carola Veit and Mr Himanshu Gulati chaired this part of the session dedicated to the partner organisations of the BSPC.
Speech by Ms Manuela Schwesig, Vice President of the German Bundesrat, Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig underscored the work of the BSPC since 1991 for a free and democratic Baltic Sea region. She also stressed the importance of involving young people and promoting their enthusiasm for liberty and the unity of the Baltic Sea countries. That was part of the defence against the divisive poison of hate and racism seeking to spread in each of those countries. The constitution of her federal state enshrined Baltic Sea cooperation, which was why Mecklenburg-Vorpommern had cultural, economic, and social ties to the other countries of the region. This made the rupture through Putin’s Russia all the more threatening, reinforcing the need to support Ukraine without question. Like the BSPC, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern also severed its ties to the St Petersburg region. A result of this rupture had to be all the other countries in the democratic Baltic Sea region moving further together. In light of the topic of resilience, this meant the security cooperation between nations and the safety of the critical infrastructure. As such, Germany had committed to reinforcing the security of the Baltic countries, with soldiers from her federal state serving to protect Lithuania. Cooperation also had to be strengthened in using the huge potential of the Baltic Sea region for renewable energies. The region could be a pioneer for living environmentally friendly, generating but also exporting energy and in peace and harmony. Ms Schwesig further underscored the efforts by Germany and other CBSS nations to clear the sea-dumped ammunition from the Baltic Sea, not least with the technologies and companies from her federal state.
Speech by Ms Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly
President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam saw the Euro-Atlantic area at a crossroads, with the trans-Atlantic partners determined to defend the values of democracy, freedom, and the right of all nations to determine their destiny. The Vilnius meeting had established the NATO-Ukraine Council, along with the unambiguous statement that Ukraine’s rightful place was in NATO. The meeting had also yielded the most comprehensive defence plan since the Cold War. Security would be reinforced in the Baltic Sea and along the entire eastern flank. They could not afford complacency, though, as evidenced by the warning calls from the Baltic Sea region after Russia’s previous wars of aggression went unheeded. To that end, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly had proposed the establishment of a Centre for Democratic Resilience at NATO HQ as a resource in the face of threats to the very democracy. This could help to defend against Russia and China which were using all their tools to export their authoritarian model.
Speech by Mr Asaf Hajief, Secretary-General of the PABSEC
Secretary-General of the PABSEC Asaf Hajief regretted that neither the Ukrainian president nor vice-president of the organisation could join the conference because of the situation in their home country. He conveyed their best regards.
The Black Sea was an important part of the world due to its geographical location as a bridge between Europe and Asia and its energy resources. Yet peace and stability were difficult to establish as there were seven conflicts among the thirteen countries in PABSEC. One of the results was the number of refugees which had reached 100 million worldwide. He called for a quick resolution in the framework of international law, with sovereignty and territorial integrity as the basis. The world was not huge but microscopic; it was their duty to bring peace, security, and prosperity to it.
Speech by Mr Grzegorz Poznański, Director General CBSS
Ambassador Grzegorz Poznański applauded the multi-level governance between different institutions by their organisations to implement the basic goals of the region’s people: a safe, secure, and prosperous region. He also cherished the youth engagement of the CBSS and the BSPC. Resilience would be the cornerstone of the upcoming Finnish presidency of the CBSS, a crucial topic for all of Europe, as reflected by the organisation’s long-standing efforts concerning climate change as well as educating the public about resilience. An online course for the entire region would be available in the future. In order to respond to the various crises, current and future ones, cooperation was necessary between institutions, states, within states and institutions. But that also required a well-educated, well-informed, and well-involved society. Mr Poznański also highlighted the BSPC resolution on sea-dumped ammunitions which had brought about concerted efforts by the CBSS, HELCOM, and the individual nations and regions.
Speech by Mr Jens William Grav, Coordinator Baltic Sea NGO Network, Denmark
Coordinator Baltic Sea NGO Network Jens William Grav explained that his network’s goal was to bring together and connect NGOs from various countries in the region. People-to-people contact and human rights issues had always been a focus in their cooperation. Until 2022, that had involved Russian NGOs, yet that was no longer possible. He likened the Ukraine of today to Yugoslavia of the 1990s and wished that one day, a rapprochement in the current crisis could also become possible. He regretted that his network had lost platforms in Germany and Finland, but he offered his remaining network to the BSPC for cooperation. He mentioned the Swedish platform’s work on education and the Polish counterpart’s on tourism issues. In Denmark, they were working on bringing the cultures and societies of other Baltic Sea region countries to the local populace’s attention, in coordination with the respective embassies.
Peaceful and reliable neighbourliness and intense cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region on the basis of fundamental values
BSPC President Johannes Schraps and Vice-President Staffan Eklöf co-chaired the second part of the first session.
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock cited the frequently used phrase “Our unity is our life insurance” as one of the great lessons from the Russian war of aggression. That was why the nations had put their cooperation in the Baltic Sea region on a new level recently, to protect and better use it, in particular in terms of renewable energy. Reducing fossil dependency not only benefited climate but also increased the security of the people in the region. Removing the vast amounts of sea-dumped ammunition was a vital project, and she thanked the BSPC for repeatedly raising this issue. The BSPC was about doing things better, for the unity of the societies around the Baltic Sea.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen stated the security ramifications of the Russian war of aggression, leading to Finland joining NATO. Baltic Sea countries had to cooperate ever more closely, in formats such as the CBSS and the BSPC. Finland’s current presidency of the CBSS was headlined by Comprehensive Security, Crisis Preparedness, and Resilience. Comprehensive security reinforced the links between the authorities, the business community, organisations, and citizens. They would look into civil defence and interfacing the roles of various actors. Moreover, they would emphasise the work against human trafficking as well as solutions to underwater ammunitions. Youth would remain a visible key part. She was looking forward to continuing constructive cooperation.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna saw this year’s conference’s topic of Strengthening the Resilience of the Baltic Sea Region as of the utmost importance given the present challenges. Reinforced cooperation was required. He praised Ukrainians’ resilience and their strong commitment to fundamental values. Ukraine had to be supported thoroughly, and Russia’s leaders had to be held accountable for the horrors committed in Ukraine. Strengthening the resilience in the Baltic Sea region also meant reinforcing social cohesion, bolstering economic and digital security, fortifying internal security, reinforcing national defence, and fostering efficient cooperation with reliable neighbours. Preparedness for a diverse range of crises was vital. For Estonia, energy independence was crucial, thus they supported cooperation on renewable energy such as wind farms. But digital resilience against conspiracy theories and disinformation was as crucial as defence against cyber threats.
BSPC Vice President Staffan Eklöf yielded the floor to the speakers in the open debate segment of the first session. Ms Lene Westgaard-Halle underlined the dreams of prosperity, democracy, and peace shared by the attendees made them stronger. To her, Germany and especially Berlin were symbols of that: Berlin not only was a warning of what must not happen again, it was also a sign of hope as a united city. Freedom from tyranny was possible. However, like in the 1930s, the world was changing once again, in countries once called democracies. Polarisation sadly was working, especially through “internet warriors”, leading to events like Brexit or the January 6 insurrection in Washington. She called on her colleagues to not be naïve about the possibility of fascism returning. Therefore, the BSPC and its cooperation was more crucial than one might think. It was necessary to listen and to respect each other’s differences.