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Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of the CBSS Presidency to Rostock’s lovely sea resort of Warnemünde. As you will have surmised when you received a joint invitation from myself, representing the Federal Foreign Office, and the Minister-President of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Baltic Sea cooperation enjoys the support of the German Federation as well as the North German Länder with links to the Baltic Sea.
Nowhere could we find a more apposite location in which to talk about collaborating on tourism in the Baltic Sea Region. Warnemünde boasts the broadest sandy beach of the entire length of Germany’s Baltic coastline. Every year, the week-long festival Warnemünder Woche and the Hanse Sail celebration of shipping each bring around a million enthusiastic visitors to the resort. Hanse Sail has grown to become one of the most significant maritime festivals in the world.
More than anything else, it was Rostock’s unique position on the Baltic Sea that made the port so important to passenger shipping and freight handling as well as one of Germany’s major cruise bases.
I myself come from Halle in Saxony-Anhalt and, like many a son or daughter of Halle, feel a certain affinity with the Baltic Sea. Halle and Magdeburg joined the Hanseatic League in the late 13th century, and they have been members of the newly founded league of Hansa cities since 2001.
Last week, we used Germany’s Presidency of the CBSS to run the Baltic Sea Days, comprising more than 25 individual events, in Berlin. Our guests from across the Baltic Sea Region represented the spheres of politics, business, culture and society and came together to experience and be part of the diversity of Baltic Sea cooperation.
Our goal was to bring the Baltic Sea to Berlin, to strengthen its foothold in the capital’s political and media consciousness. Some of you were among the audience of more than 800 which I had the privilege of welcoming to the ceremony at the Foreign Office with Federal President Joachim Gauck, whose speech was the highlight of the Baltic Sea Days. The President was born here in Rostock, and it is hard to imagine a person whose life story could provide a more accurate parallel to the war-time and post-war history of the Baltic Sea – and its transformation from a sea of confrontation to a sea of freedom.
Another highlight of Germany’s CBSS Presidency was celebrating the Council of the Baltic Sea States’ 20th anniversary at the Extraordinary Ministerial Session held at Schloss Plön in early February. Among those attending were the former foreign ministers who founded the CBSS in their day, Germany’s Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Denmark’s Uffe Ellemann-Jensen.
The climax of Germany’s Presidency will be the CBSS summit in Stralsund. Chancellor Merkel will welcome the Baltic Sea states’ heads of government to that Hanseatic city on 30 31 May. The 9th summit of its kind, it will focus on the challenges currently facing the Baltic Sea Region, energy security and demographic change. Afterwards, the Chancellor will pass the baton to her successor from Russia, who will be appointed in mid-May.
For the success and coalescence of the Baltic Sea Region, it is essential that the CBSS and the EU cooperate intensively and fruitfully. The Baltic Sea is an inland sea within Europe, but not all the Baltic Sea states are EU members.
That is one of the reasons why we, Mr Sellering and I, invited you to this conference jointly: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania coordinates the tourism element of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, and the Federal Foreign Office is promoting the creation of a joint Baltic Sea tourism region under the auspices of the CBSS.
In August last year, Foreign Minister Westerwelle met his Baltic counterparts in Binz to discuss what potential for development they could see in the sphere of tourism. The experts sat at a round table and shared their experience and views regarding cooperation on tourism in the Baltic Sea Region. They talked about the place of cultural heritage in tourism, coastal tourism and tourism potential for Riga as the cultural capital of Europe in 2014, as well as Baltic Sea tourism as a joint brand.
At our conference here today, we want to pick up where those discussions left off and work together on a shared concept of Baltic Sea tourism which does more than showcase one town like Rostock-Warnemünde or one region like the Curonian Lagoon. No, what we want to highlight is what unites us, what we all – from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania via Gdansk, Kaliningrad, Kaunas and Tallinn to St Petersburg and Helsinki – have in common.
The Baltic Sea Region has enormous potential for tourism. It is one of a kind, a real jewel nestling in an amazing landscape, and it enjoys valuable natural, cultural and architectural heritage as well as good infrastructure and, above all, hospitable inhabitants.
To develop the region as a tourist destination together, we need to involve all the states on the Baltic Sea. To that end, the EU has, in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, elaborated its first macro-regional approach – the success of which depends on Russian involvement. That is why the CBSS, in bringing together the EU and all the Baltic Sea states, has such an important role to play.
One of the main focuses of Germany’s CBSS Presidency has been the modernization programme for the south-eastern corner of the Baltic Sea Region. The idea is above all to concentrate on integrating the Kaliningrad region into the area around it.
Ms Karpenko, who has been operating as the CBSS coordinator in Kaliningrad under Germany’s Presidency, is going to be running a workshop on the subject. She has already put forward a list of promising proposals for projects to modernize the south-eastern Baltic Sea Region, and we now need to keep up those efforts.
Among the proposals for tourism is, for example, the interesting idea of developing a cross-border nature reserve in Romincka Forest in the south-east of the Kaliningrad Oblast, on the border to Lithuania and Poland. The area’s many lakes, rivers, marshes and meadows make it certainly one of the most picturesque parts of the whole region. The beautiful diversity of the landscape has a place in our unique natural, historical and cultural heritage.
Another interesting proposal is that we develop water tourism. Old inland waterways built in what was then East Prussia are just waiting to be opened up and rediscovered.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister has proposed drawing up what he calls “culture routes” between the region’s many and varied sites of cultural heritage. In a relatively small area, there are traces of Lithuanian, Polish, Prussian, Russian and not least Jewish history – and people ought to be able to see them again.
The Expert Group Baltic 21 is one of the most well-known areas of the CBSS’s work. It combines the need for sustainable development with the creation of a sustainable tourism strategy. The CBSS will therefore be using tomorrow’s workshop on sustainable tourism as an opportunity to play an active role in the field.
A couple of years back, Germany’s Federal President of the time, Roman Herzog, referred to the impressive changes in the Baltic Sea Region as follows: “The Baltic Sea today is no longer a barrier between us; it connects us all. Literally and figuratively, it offers a gateway to new horizons.”
On that note, I’d like to wish everyone here an interesting conference full of stimulating presentations and fruitful discussions on building a Baltic Sea tourism region. I hope it helps bring us closer together through our shared interests and generate real benefits both for the economy and for the people of the Baltic Sea Region.
Thank you very much.