The Digital 29th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference gathered delegates from all member parliaments and parliamentary organisations of the BSPC. The delegates discussed topics such as the environmental state of the Baltic Sea, migration and integration, maritime policy and tourism, but the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on every aspect of cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region was a constant element of the discussion.
After the opening of the Conference by Mr Sigitas Mitkus, on behalf of H.E. Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania, the welcome address by H.E. Viktoras Pranckietis, Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the speech of Mr Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, and the speech of Mr Valerijus Simulik, President of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference on the Lithuanian BSPC Presidency 2019-2020 representatives of the incumbent, former and incoming CBSS Presidencies spoke about Vision 2030: Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region for Safe and Prosperous Development:
Mr Neris Germanas, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, presented the four priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency: green and maritime tourism as an important sector in reviving the regional economy, increasing the region‘s visibility, giving employment opportunities to young people; civil protection in the region, strengthening resilience in the region against major emergencies and disasters; the fight against human trafficking for labour exploitation in the region as well as the prevention of violence against children.
Ambassador Ove Ullerup, representing the 2019-2020 Danish Presidency of the Council of Baltic Sea States, reported that on 19 May, Foreign Ministers of all 11 Member States and a high-level representative of the EU had met in a video conference. Mr. Ullerup underlined the extraordinary level of participation as a strong sign of the political support for the reform of the CBSS. As a result of that meeting, the Bornholm Declaration had been adopted.
Mr Dag Wernø Holter, Senior Adviser, Nordic-Baltic Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway, confirmed that the incoming Norwegian presidency would continue to implement the CBSS reform and follow the Bornholm Declaration.
Mr Pyry Niemi, the Vice President of the BSPC who was chairing the session, expressed his gratitude to the management of the CBSS Secretariat for their excellent cooperation with the BSPC and added his best wishes to the outgoing Director General of the Secretariat, Ambassador Maira Mora.
The second session, chaired by Ms Valentina Pivnenko, former BSPC President, dealt with the topic of Safeguarding the Environment, Seas and Oceans for Future Generations.
The speakers of that session were: Ms Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany, HELCOM Chair, European Council Presidency; Mr Oleg Nilov, Member of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, and Mr Peter Stein, BSPC Rapporteur on Sea-Dumped Munitions, Member of the German Bundestag.
All of them called for even more close and active cooperation in these times of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The overarching goal remains the best possible protection of the Baltic Sea,” said Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, in her video address introducing Germany’s HELCOM Chairmanship, further adding
that all efforts should also consider aspects of “sustainability, relevance for the climate and biological diversity, and suitability”. The Minister further noted that Germany’s Chairmanship would also lead to the finalization of the update of the Baltic Seas Action Plan (BSAP) and its implementation as well as devote attention to strengthening regional cooperation and ocean governance. Oleg Nilov noted the example of the Russian tundra fires, requiring huge resources. Despite all that, the tundra served as the green lungs of the northern part of the earth. Peter Steinreported on the topic of sea-dumped munitions and their removal that many researchers, institutes, nationally and internationally funded projects and private companies had developed a high level of expertise and that several companies were offering specialized solutions. However, despite existing knowledge and a general awareness of the dangers, no action had been taken. The reasons for that could be complex, among them diverse responsibilities and the high cost of potential action.
Liz Mattsson, Member of the Åland Parliament, emphasized that of a total 30,000 inhabitants of Åland, about 600 were farmers. With its rich agricultural landscape, a well-developed food industry and small-scale production, Åland could be a good place for pilot projects in food production sustainability. The speaker gave examples of several projects currently being realized in her region.
Carola Veit, Former BSPC President and Vice-Chair of the BSPC WG on Migration and Integration, chaired the third session: Migration and Integration: Finding Common Solutions Based on Mutual Information and Best Practices.
Hans Wallmark, Chairman of the BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration, Sweden, in his conclusion of the three-year work underlined that all members should continue to disseminate and share best practices regarding, for example, supporting the employment and integration of certain groups of migrants. The multifaceted character of integration should be further explored, including the labour market, language, social relationships and cultural accommodation.
Dmitry Demidenko, Deputy Head of the Main Migration Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, brought the issue of migration during COVID-19 closer to the audience from a Russian perspective. He outlined how the President of Russia had ordered a comprehensive reform of migration regimes and the institution of citizenship to be carried out. The rules for staying would be simplified and the conditions for compliance with the law rendered clearer and more feasible. He reminded the delegates that Russia was one of the centres of global migration flows and that every year, 16-17 million foreign citizens were coming to the country, with the current year accounting for about 10 million.
Vladlena Avdeeva, representative of the NGO «Stellit», St. Petersburg, spoke about the role of online technologies in the involvement of migrant children in human trafficking. She pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risks of children becoming victims of human trafficking as they were spending more time online with reduced adult supervision. The speaker added that digital technologies were erasing the geographical distances between the child and the perpetrator, thus improving children’s accessibility. On the other hand, online technologies were playing an increasing role in the work of NGOs and government organisations helping them to identify vulnerable children, to monitor the condition of the child after rehabilitation or in preventing children from falling victim to human trafficking.
In the second part of the session, the reports by the BSPC Rapporteurs were presented:
Mr Jörgen Pettersson and Mr Jochen Schulte on Integrated Maritime Policy, Ms Beate Schlupp, First Vice-President of the State Parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, on HELCOM and on Sustainable Tourism.
The conference was also addressed by Mr Mieczysław Struk, President of the Baltic Sea States Subregional Cooperation, BSSSC, Marshal of the Pomorskie Voivodeship, and by Mr Asaf Hajiyev, PABSEC Secretary General.
The Conference approved the new BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity with Ms Tenfjord-Toftby from the Swedish Parliament as the Chairwoman of the Working Group.
The Digital 29th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference has unanimously adopted the Conference Resolution.
In his final remarks, the BSPC President Valerijus Simulik expressed his great regret that the Lithuanian Parliament had been forced to cancel the 29th BSPC in Vilnius. Nevertheless, thanks to digital tools, it had proved possible to organize the meetings of the Standing Committee in May 2020 and the Drafting Committee on 20 July as well as finally the 29th BSPC Conference. The President expressed his satisfaction with the constructive, albeit sometimes fierce, discussion and with the outcome of the Conference which was the adoption of the Resolution by all delegations.
Then the symbolic baton went to the incoming BSPC President, Pyry Niemi from the Swedish Parliament, who presented the priorities of the Swedish Presidency and invited all delegates to the 30th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference – hopefully with everyone present – in Stockholm on 29 – 31 August 2021.