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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to take part in this third Annual Forum on behalf of the German Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). The overarching theme of the conference here in Copenhagen, “Connecting Europe – Smart and Green Partnerships”, has also been highly significant for the German CBSS Presidency.
Connecting Europe – what that means to us is intensive and successful cooperation between the CBSS and the EU, which is indispensable to the coalescence of the Baltic Sea Region. Together with the previous Polish EU Presidency, Secretary of State Serafin, and the current Danish EU Presidency, Minister Wammen, we have forged new ties in cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region.
The Baltic Sea is an inland sea within Europe, but not all the Baltic Sea states are EU members. The CBSS, in bringing together the EU and all the Baltic Sea states as equal partners, has taken on the role of a platform for cooperation. The CBSS-Secretariat now oversees projects within the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region in fields such as maritime disaster relief, with Russia participating on equal terms. More such projects will follow.
The EU General Affairs Council, which meets on 26 June, will adopt conclusions on the completed revision of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, and in doing so will particularly commend the progress made in cooperation through the CBSS and with the Russian Federation.
The German CBSS Presidency is nearing its conclusion. On 1 July, Russia will take over. This is a good time to take stock. And Copenhagen is the ideal place to do so, as the CBSS was founded here 20 years ago. At the invitation of Foreign Minister Westerwelle, the CBSS foreign ministers celebrated this anniversary on 5 February at Plön Castle, where they were joined by the Council’s two founding fathers, former Foreign Ministers Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (sitzt voraussichtlich unter den Zuhörern) and Hans-Dietrich Genscher. At that time only Denmark and Germany belonged to the EU; today eight Baltic Sea countries are member states, while Norway is part of the European Economic Area and Russia is linked to the EU by a comprehensive modernization partnership.
Just over two weeks ago, the German Presidency reached its apex with a Baltic Sea summit of heads of government in the town of Stralsund.
The heads of government discussed two major challenges for the Baltic Sea Region: firstly, modern energy infrastructures and energy security, and secondly, demographic change.
Particularly in the area of energy security, which was marked by conflict in the past, the CBSS has been able to lay the groundwork for mutual trust and closer cooperation on energy policy issues. There is good reason why President Barroso of the European Commission in Stralsund praised the CBSS foreign ministers’ energy security declaration of 5 February as a reference document which Europe’s two leading energy suppliers, Norway and Russia, stand behind, as do their top consumers in the EU.
The discussion of demographic change showed that all Baltic Sea states are grappling intensely with this trend. The impact of aging populations on our labour markets and social security systems and the depopulation of rural areas demand comprehensive, networked approaches to problem-solving which will profoundly alter our ways of coexisting.
The informal dinner the evening before the summit focused on the foundations for competitiveness and sustainable growth in our region. It was a matter of broad consensus – both in and beyond the EU – that structural reforms and sound public finances are indispensable to this.
We also saw success on the margins of the summit: a Memorandum-of-Understanding for a regional ‘Pilot Funding Initiative’ between the CBSS Secretariat, the Russian Vneshekonombank (VEB) and the German development bank Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) was signed. This initiative provides a credit line of up to 100 million euros for co financing innovative investments by small and medium-sized companies as well as public-private partnerships in the Russian part of the Baltic Sea Region. This platform is open to additional banks from other Baltic Sea states as well.
We also welcomed the summit participants’ approval of the establishment of a project fund for 2013 to 2015. This fund is part of the South-East Baltic Sea Area modernization initiative proposed by Minister Westerwelle. It will help make the region more attractive and more competitive. In particular, the Kaliningrad region of Russia is to become better connected with its neighbourhood. The Polish-Russian agreement on visa-free border traffic between the Kaliningrad region and the Polish border regions is a promising start; further steps towards greater cross-border freedom of movement need to follow.
In late April, the Baltic Sea Days in Berlin represented another highlight of the CBSS anniversary year. More than 1800 representatives of the spheres of politics, business, culture and society from throughout the Baltic Sea Region came together at many forums in Berlin to experience and help shape the diversity of Baltic Sea cooperation. In the keynote speech, Federal President Gauck praised the broad range of successful cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region.
When we speak today about how to bolster economic growth and enhance the Baltic Sea Region’s competitive strength, sustainability is central to our concept of future-oriented development. Sustainability is an important concern for every field of the CBSS’s work.
Through Baltic 21, its Expert Group on Sustainable Development, the CBSS is spotlighting concrete political recommendations for action, which feature for example in “Northern Lights on Sustainable Development”, a publication which is available here at the Secretariat’s stand in Copenhagen.
These recommendations will also be incorporated into the Rio+20 summit. In Rio the CBSS, represented by the German Environment Minister, will host an event at ministerial level which will address how close regional cooperation can further global progress towards sustainable development.
Sustainable development and sustainable economic growth will remain at the top of the CBSS’s agenda after the German Presidency ends. In particular, the incoming Russian Presidency will continue with the South-East Baltic Sea Area modernization initiative and the promotion of public-private partnerships via a CBSS network of experts, founded in Berlin during the Baltic Sea Days.
Following its Presidency, Germany will remain dedicated to helping make sure the Baltic Sea Region lives up to its reputation as a place of education and knowledge. We want to take on a larger role in developing the EuroFaculty in Pskov. We will keep supporting the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein’s initiative to make culture a higher priority within the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. In this area we look to Ars Baltica, the CBSS’s cultural network.
The Annual Forum on the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the Baltic Development Forum play a valuable part in helping the Baltic Sea Region remain one of the world’s most prosperous and competitive economic hubs. I wish everyone here in Copenhagen a successful conference with interesting and engaging speeches and discussions about the Baltic Sea.
Thank you very much for your attention!