The Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is being held for the 8th time on 13‑14 June 2017. This is the first time ever the event has taken place in Germany. Some 800 participants from the worlds of politics, business, science and culture are discussing issues relating to the Baltic Sea. The event was organised by the Federal Foreign Office in close collaboration with the Baltic Sea Commission and the European Commission. Foreign Minister Gabriel opened the Forum together with Nobel Peace Laureate Martti Ahtisaari and Sara Mazur, Vice President of Ericsson.
A role model for other regions
“Cooperation in a spirit of trust does not emerge of its own accord,” Foreign Minister Gabriel said at the start of the conference. He described it instead as requiring energy and determination on the part of all those involved. In Gabriel’s opinion, all the right elements have successfully come together in the Baltic Sea Region. The larger part of the Baltic Sea coast lies within the EU. Eight EU member states have sea borders on the Baltic: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Germany. The EU’s neighbours Norway, Belarus and north-western Russia are also involved in the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Gabriel felt that this cooperation illustrated what a force for peace the EU could be. Cooperation between Baltic Sea states has a long history. The countries already had close economic links within the Hanseatic League, and political and cultural ties have remained vibrant. As Gabriel stressed, today’s intensive cooperation between the countries serves as a model for other world regions.
Gabriel went on to note that the political climate in the Baltic Sea region had deteriorated recently, above all as regards relations with Russia. Against this background, it was all the more important to maintain good relations and keep the dialogue going within the region. Gabriel felt that close cooperation with Russia was still possible in the Baltic Sea framework, and that this constituted an important step towards improving the situation.
The theme of this year’s Forum, connectivity, is thus intended to encapsulate the central idea underpinning cooperation around the Baltic Sea: transnational cooperation is essential when it comes to creating a successful region, be it with respect to infrastructure, environmental protection, energy or science.
Infrastructure and marine protection
Gabriel picked out two themes which will be particularly important at this year’s meeting. First was the region’s role as a centre of innovation. Well-known firms such as Skype and Spotify began as start-ups in the Baltic Sea states. This potential should be built on, for example through the promotion of investments. Secondly, the protection of the Baltic Sea itself is on the agenda. Huge quantities of nitrogen continue to flow down various rivers into the Baltic Sea. This has a negative impact on marine life. Fish stocks are also declining at ever faster rates. Here, too, the Baltic Sea states should work on joint solutions.
A packed programme covering tourism, blue growth and digitalisation
The conference participants will also debate the expansion of tourism and infrastructure, as well as sustainable business models. Two plenary debates featuring eminent speakers are to provide additional input on transport policy as a motor of regional development and on blue growth – growth of the marine and maritime economy having full regard to environmental protection. Project presentations and interactive modules, a film presentation and funding speed-dating all await visitors in the Connectivity Lounge.