Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Opening of the 20th Council of the Baltic Sea States Ministerial Session in Wismar, Germany

01.06.2023 - Speech

My colleague and friend from Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis, just said that we’re getting more public attention here than we did in Oslo at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting – so we really do appreciate your interest today.

Welcome to Wismar.

It’s hard to imagine a better location to open our twentieth meeting of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the VASB Forum than this spot – here, in the city of Wismar, right in the heart of its historic harbour. Looking out at these ships and docks gives us a glimpse of the rich history of this beautiful space, in which regional cooperation has always played a key role.

In the 13th century, Wismar was becoming a Hanseatic city. The Hanse was once a powerful alliance of up to 200 towns that decided to pool their interests. They had one clear goal in mind: to keep their sea routes safe, to increase their joint security, so that trade and prosperity could flourish – for all of them. Many of the Hanse principles are still more than valid, as we come together today - even if our security challenges are far more complex. Many of us foreign ministers arrived here straight from the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Oslo where we spoke about the future of the world’s strongest security alliance.

NATO is another example that shows how cooperation strengthens us all – in an alliance in which members pool their efforts to achieve a stronger collective defence. The security of each of us is the security of all of us – also here in the Baltic Sea Region. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has been a watershed moment for cooperation in the region and especially in the Council of Baltic Sea States. Together, we discussed as Foreign Ministers whether this Council of Baltic Sea States still makes sense. And, thank goodness, we decided that, yes, especially right now it does make sense – because this Council, like many other European institutions, was founded for our collective safety and freedom. Together, we decided to suspend Russia from the CBSS. And together, we agreed how crucial it was to continue to use the CBSS as a forum to promote cooperation, particularly now - in a region that is key to the security of us all.

I think it is clear to many of us that when we talk about security in the Baltic Sea region, we are talking about much more than military power and diplomatic strategy.

Security in the 21st century also means that our energy supply is reliable; it concerns the protection of our ports, roads and rail networks. It concerns the fight against disinformation, as much as the way we deal with the climate crisis and environmental change. In short, it is about becoming more resilient. It is this integrated picture of our joint security that is reflected in the three priorities for our CBSS Presidency this year.

Firstly, we have put the expansion of offshore wind energy at the top of the agenda. Because every wind turbine we build is an investment in our security. Transitioning to green energy makes us less dependent on oil, coal and – I say this especially here, near where the Nord Stream pipeline made landfall – on gas imports from countries we cannot always rely on. It helps to keep our energy supply cleaner and especially safer. Together with our Danish partner – and here I would like to thank you, dear Lars, – we hosted the Baltic Offshore Wind Forum in Berlin last month. We brought together civil society, public and private sector actors to see how we can tap into the Baltic Sea’s full potential. And it is huge. This sea behind me is a treasure we all share. But it is also a treasure we can make better use of: a treasure for green energy.

Secondly, we have strengthened the exchange between our young people. This is also about resilience. Just last week, young women and men from across the Baltic Sea Region came together in Berlin at the CBSS Youth Ministerial - to develop ideas on how to make our societies more resilient – in dealing with disinformation, for instance, and on how to address the damaging impacts of the climate crisis. We will hear their ideas tomorrow.

Finally – and this is the third priority of our Presidency – we want to tackle the problem of munitions dumped from previous wars. The seabed is littered with almost 450,000 tonnes of munitions. That is roughly the equivalent of the total load of 11,000 trucks. And it is a dark reminder of the damaging traces of war and conflict that remain with us for decades. These munitions pollute the sea. They contaminate fish and mussels, which often end up on our plates – in restaurants or on our kitchen tables. During our Presidency, we will work to defuse this ticking time bomb on the seabed. We have brought together experts from a variety of fields on this who will brief us today on how these challenges can be tackled – to make the Baltic Sea cleaner and safer.

What’s clear is: on all these crucial matters, we only stand to gain by cooperating – like in the 13th century. That’s also true for our colleagues of VASAB, which my colleague and friend, Minister Klara Geywitz, is chairing and that will focus on spatial planning in the region of the Baltic Sea. We learnt at the Baltic Offshore Wind Forum what a key role maritime spatial planning plays in balancing the various demands placed on the Baltic Sea - from building offshore wind parks, power lines and electricity networks to creating nature reserves and taking into account shipping lanes as well as former munitions’ dump sites.

The Baltic Sea is our shared treasure. So let us protect this treasure. Let us tap into its enormous potential to strengthen our mutual security and welfare – with practical solutions. This is why we are here today and tomorrow. To find solutions that work in reality.

In this historic city, in this historic port, where the merchants already knew 800 years ago that the best way to prosper is by joining hands – across the sea.

Thank you for joining us. Thank you for crossing hands across the sea.


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