Speech by Ambassador Gerhard Almer at the 19th BSSSC Annual Conference in Szczecin from 5 to 7 October 2011
Mr Chairman and Marshal of the Westpomeranian Region,
ladies and gentlemen,
As representative of the German presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, I’m delighted to join you today in this green city of Szczecin between the River Oder and the Baltic for what is now your 19th Annual Conference of the Baltic Sea States Subregional Cooperation.
So let me offer special thanks to Mr Geblewicz, the Marshal of the Westpomeranian Region, for his kind hospitality.
It’s a great pleasure for me to be here in Szczecin, a city with a thousand-year history. A loyal member of the Hanse Federation in medieval times, a city in the Westpomeranian Region of Poland today, which – like other regions around the Baltic – has seen many vicissitudes of fortune. Today, more than 20 years after the Iron Curtain was swept away, borders no longer cut regions off from one another, they bring them together in fact. The outskirts of Szczecin today do not end at the Polish-German border, they go beyond. From here Berlin, Denmark and Sweden are almost just around the corner. It’s this location and the unique landscape you have here that make the region so attractive to investors and tourists alike.
Every region around the Baltic is, each in its own way, a small jewel, even though their lustre and public profile may vary of course. Yet what makes a region special is not just its natural environment, however beautiful, but above all the people who live and work there.
That’s why it’s so important to preserve regional diversity around the Baltic, strengthen regional identity and actively communicate and promote the interests of our more than 100 regions from all countries bordering the Baltic Sea. As the only pan-Baltic network of regional authorities, the BSSSC has, since 1993, been making a vital contribution to this endeavour.
I’d like to highlight here particularly the BSSSC’s excellent cooperation with the European Commission on developing and implementing the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region as well as its crucial cooperation also with Russia’s Baltic subregions. This cooperation is of priceless value, for it’s not only something that grows from bottom up , it has also inspired a host of concrete projects and helped build regional networks.
Germany took over the CBSS presidency from Norway on 1 July. During the Norwegian CBSS presidency, important new initiatives were taken notably in the area of maritime policy and combating human trafficking, the two priorities of the Norwegian presidency. We plan to take this agenda forward during our presidency, too. The cultural kick-off for our presidency took place three weeks ago at Plön Castle in Schleswig-Holstein, where we gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ars Baltica, an initiative that fosters cultural cooperation around the Baltic Sea.
Plön Castle will also be the venue on 6 and 7 February 2012 for the extraordinary foreign ministers meeting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CBSS, which will be hosted by Federal Minister Westerwelle. Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the CBSS’ founding fathers, will of course be there, too. Another event planned to mark the occasion will be the Baltic Media Forum organized by Norddeutscher Rundfunk, at which journalists from all over the Baltic will discuss what progress cooperation in the region has made in recent years.
A further highlight of our CBSS presidency will be the Baltic Sea Days we’re planning on 24 and 25 April 2012 in Berlin. Our aim is to bring all Baltic Sea cooperation stakeholders together. One one side, we want to show just how multifaceted these activities are and what a broad spectrum they cover – economic cooperation, energy, the environment, civil security, youth, culture and civil society. On the other side, we want to promote coherence: to avoid duplication, to identify needs not yet covered by cooperation, to create synergies.
Our presidency will wind up with a Baltic Sea summit hosted by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on 30 and 31 May 2012 in Stralsund.
In your conference documents you’ll find the entire work programme of our CBSS presidency. So I’ll focus now in greater detail only on the issues right at the top of our agenda.
1.) Modernization Partnership for the South-East Baltic Sea Area
Even though the Baltic Sea Region as a whole is thriving, there are still considerable differences between the south-east and the west. That’s why we’re launching a programme to modernize the south-east Baltic Sea area, which in our view includes also the north-east of Germany and Poland’s coastal regions. We plan to devote special attention to the Kaliningrad area and its links with neighbouring regions.
The German CBSS presidency and the subsequent Russian presidency offer a unique opportunity to put this programme onto a long-term footing, thus ensuring the necessary continuity.
We’re hoping here for even more proposals and contributions of a concrete nature – besides Russia especially from Poland and the Baltic states, as well as from other CBSS member states. The CBSS foreign ministers issued the relevant mandate on 7 June.
2.) Another thing we’re planning is a joint initiative to promote public-private partnerships. The idea is to provide incentives for economic development and private investment in the Baltic Sea Region.
It’s crucial that companies in the Baltic Sea Region play their part here. And the same goes for the state, for clearly an environment conducive to development and investment requires legal certainty and good governance.
3.) Long-term priorities of the CBSS: the example of the north German federal states
During our presidency we also intend to take forward the work on CBSS long-term priorities. Promoting encounters among young people has long been a key aspect of its activities. One very positive example is provided by Hamburg, which in the context of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region acts as priority area coordinator for education. In spring 2012 Hamburg will also host a major conference on prospects for education cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region.
Hamburg was, as you know, BSSSC chair in 2009 and 2010. In cooperation with BSSSC and the European Commission, Hamburg organized in 2009 a conference, which brought young people from the whole region together to discuss what they expect of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region as well as how the strategy relates to the various subregions – the same you did here during the last days.
A special success of the Hamburg chairmanship was the coincidence of the BSSSC Annual Conference with the Annual Forum of the EU-BSR Strategy in Tallinn in 2010. At the time, the BSSSC called upon the EU and its member states to secure an active involvement of local and regional authorities in the implementation ot the EU BSR Strategy.
Please allow me to add here that the German Federal Government fully supports the Polish EU-presidency's efforts to review the EU Strategy and to prepare substantial conclusions for its future at the General Affairs Council in November in Brussels.
Turning to the tourism sector, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is coordinator for this priority area of the action plan to implement the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. In this capacity it has initiated a wide range of activities to promote tourism in rural areas and encourage stakeholders to manage cultural and natural heritage as valuable assets in this connection. For the south-east Baltic Sea area, we believe there is a unique opportunity here for stakeholders to develop a common concept, a new “Baltic Sea tourism” brand, so to speak. This could benefit all countries bordering the Baltic Sea. As part of the programme for a 3 + 1 meeting with the Baltic state foreign ministers, we organized a round table on tourism cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region, which took place in Binz on Rügen on 24 August. This round table with experts from around the Baltic produced a number of ideas, which of course we would be very glad to share with all stakeholders.
Another event I’d like to mention here is the Third International Conference on Cruise and Ferry Passenger Shipping in the Baltic Sea, which was organized by the University of Rostock’s Baltic Institute and held in Rostock on 3 and 4 May 2011. The main focus of the conference was sustainable shipping. The 150 participants discussed the challenges posed by climate change, how best to protect the Baltic Sea ecosystem and the future of small Baltic Sea ports used by cruise ships.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern also enjoys close cooperation with its neighbouring Westpomeranian Region in Poland. A visible token of the success of this cooperation is the Europapromenade linking Heringsdorf and Świnoujście. Europe’s longest cross-border beach promenade was inaugurated this year on 19 August. It’s a splendid example, I feel, of what the European Union is all about: transcending borders and bringing Europe together. On other tourism-related projects, too, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Poland’s Westpomeranian Region are working closely together. One such project is the Baltic Museum 2.0 plus, which aims to develop a mobile e-guide system for the Region’s maritime museums.
Last but not least, Schleswig-Holstein has made significant contributions in the field of culture and the arts as well as to developing a Baltic Sea identity. Twenty years ago Schleswig-Holstein was the prime mover behind the creation of the Ars Baltica network, now a key player in international cultural exchange. As I’ve already mentioned, we celebrated the network’s 20th anniversary at Plön Castle just a few weeks ago.
Schleswig-Holstein also initiated the idea of a virtual textbook on Baltic Sea history, which is now one of the flagship projects listed in the action plan implementing the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. This transnational project aims to explore the Region’s shared history and thereby foster greater understanding of the different ways in which it is perceived and interpreted. Adolescents and young adults in particular will be invited to participate in the project. Besides strengthening the Region’s common identity, this work will help lay the foundations for its common future.
Since 2006 Schleswig-Holstein has been campaigning – with BSSSC support – for a common Baltic Seamaritime policy. Today Maritime Policy has obtained a distinct role within the EU. There is a Commissioner and a proper Directorate General for Maritime Policy. Thanks also to your support, the Clean Baltic Sea Shipping initiative has been included in the action plan implementing the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. As chair of the BSSSC working group on maritime policy, Schleswig-Holstein also initiated cooperation with the relevant working groups of the CBSS and the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference.
Besides cooperating with Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein also has a partnership with the Kaliningrad area. This has generated fertile exchanges particularly in the area of vocational training and the medical instruments and supplies sector.
Whether they have a high profile or prosper quietly away from the public eye, every one of the Baltic’s over 100 regions has something special to offer. They’re remarkably diverse, just like those treasured stones with a hole in them that we hunt for on the seashore – the so-called “Hühnergötter” as we call them in Germany referring to their magic power stimulating fertility. So let me encourage you to make the most of this extraordinary potential and become even more active in Baltic Sea cooperation. I appeal to central government representatives here to allow your various regions ample scope for regional engagement – as we in Berlin do, too – and give them all the support you can. The Heringsdorf-Świnoujście Europapromenade is a wonderful example of such successful inter-regional flagship projects and will inspire, I hope, many more such ventures.
On this note, I wish everyone here in Szczecin a successful conference with a host of stimulating speeches and discussions on all kinds of topics relevant to the regions around the Baltic Sea.
Thank you very much for your attention!