Welcome

Speech by Ambassador Gerhard Almer, Head of the Task Force for the German Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States 2011/2012, at the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC) St Petersburg, 27 August 2012

27.08.2012 - Speech

Translation of advance text !

Chairwoman Pivnenko,
State Duma Chairman Naryshkin,
distinguished Parliament and Parliamentary Assembly Presidents,
distinguished parliamentarians,
ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and privilege on behalf of the German Government to report to you today on the German Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, which has just drawn to a close. Minister of State Pieper sends her apologies, pressing commitments in Berlin have prevented her from joining us today.

All of you assembled here are members of national and regional parliaments that control our governments and lend them democratic legitimacy. Together you strengthen our Region’s identity and our sense that we belong together – and you do this also and especially in your role as drivers of the political activities of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

So it was only logical that the 20th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference last year in Helsinki once again highlighted how mutually beneficial cooperation is between the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference and the Council of the Baltic Sea States. And it was equally logical that Ms Pivnenko, your new chairwoman, was Chancellor Merkel’s guest of honour at the Baltic Sea Summit in Stralsund. For the German CBSS Presidency regular and intensive dialogue with you has been extremely important.

The Resolution adopted by the 20th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference was the starting‑point for a range of initiatives launched during our Presidency. On behalf of the German presidency I would like to say how much we appreciated the valuable ideas and great support we received from parliamentarians across the Region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Germany took over the CBSS presidency from Norway on 1 July 2011. I’d like to concentrate today on three priorities of our presidency work programme:

1.) Modernization partnership for the South-Eastern Baltic Sea Area, SEBA

Even though the Baltic Sea Region as a whole is thriving, there are still considerable differences between the south-east and the north-west. That’s why our first goal was to launch a programme to modernize the South-Eastern Baltic Sea Area.

We saw our CBSS presidency and the subsequent Russian presidency as an opportunity to drive forward projects in this area in close cooperation with Poland and the Baltic states.

We’ve devoted special attention to the Kaliningrad area and its links with neighbouring regions.

At their extraordinary meeting at Schloss Plön on 5 February 2012, CBSS foreign ministers agreed an ambitious programme focusing on cooperation in the tourism sector, expanding public-private partnerships, youth exchanges, academic and research cooperation and sustainable development.

The ministers notably approved a proposal to set up a special project fund to be based at the CBSS Secretariat and financed by member state contributions. From 2013 on, this fund will support projects primarily in this South-Eastern Baltic Sea Area. This led to a corresponding Memorandum of Understanding being signed by the CBSS Secretariat, Germany’s Reconstruction Loan Corporation (KfW) and its Russian counterpart Vneshekonombank on the margins of the Baltic Sea Summit in Stralsund on 30/31 May. The fund has a credit line of initially 150 million euros, which will be used to co‑finance innovative investments by small and medium-sized enterprises as well as public‑private partnerships in Russian areas of the Baltic Sea Region. As a “Pilot Financial Initiative”, this new scheme is of course open to additional banks from other Baltic Sea states as well.

In this way we’ve taken up and given practical effect to one of the major suggestions to emerge from the resolution of the 20th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, furthering CBSS development by way of securing long-term resources for project-oriented activities.

The involvement of the private sector creates a sound basis for investment in the Baltic Sea Region. However, the state, too, has to contribute to an investment-friendly environment by ensuring legal certainty and good governance.

We’ve pursued a similar approach to cooperation in the tourism sector. In early May Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Minister-President Erwin Sellering and Minister of State Pieper opened a Baltic Sea tourism conference in Warnemünde. Government and business are working hand in hand to develop the Baltic Sea as a tourist brand. Particularly in the increasingly popular cruise sector we’re keen to ensure that development follows a sustainable path. If we succeed in this, everyone stands to gain.

2.) Coherent framework for cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region

Let me now turn to the second priority of our presidency. Our goal was to integrate the CBSS more fully into the new Baltic Sea cooperation structures currently evolving and in this way create a more coherent framework for cooperation across the Region.

The Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference had called in Helsinki for the activities being taken forward under the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region as well as CBSS and Northern Dimension auspices to be aligned on an ongoing basis and for arrangements to be made that ensure all Baltic Sea Region stakeholders can cooperate on an equal footing and to their mutual benefit.

From this point of view it was helpful of course that Poland and Denmark, two Baltic Sea countries, held the EU Presidency during our CBSS presidency. At our suggestion, the conclusions adopted by the General Affairs Council in November 2011 and June 2012 on the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region recognize the role of the CBSS and the Northern Dimension as platforms for cooperation with third countries in the Baltic Sea Region. Concrete projects have been agreed in areas such as environmental protection, civil protection and health. The CBSS Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Northern Dimension Partnership for Public Health and Social Wellbeing function as project leaders, ensuring that all Baltic Sea States can participate if they so wish.

The current action plan for the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region envisages as a new Horizontal Action “Improved Cooperation with Neighbours in the Russian Regions”. This is intended particularly to support the modernization initiative for the South-Eastern Baltic Sea Area.

At the Baltic Sea Summit, finally, we agreed to investigate how Russia's new north‑western development strategy might benefit cooperation throughout the Baltic Sea Region.

3.) Strengthening regional identity

The third priority of our presidency was strengthening regional identity around the Baltic – an identity of which the CBSS is very much a symbol.

What makes the CBSS so unique is “bottom-up” cooperation, something that has done much to ensure that the Baltic Sea Region’s inhabitants identify with their region as well as its history and culture.

What makes Baltic Sea cooperation so vibrant is the face-to-face encounters it encourages at every level.

The Baltic Sea Days held in Berlin in late April 2012 were a wonderful demonstration of the vitality and intensity of Baltic Sea cooperation across the board. More than 1800 people active in politics, business, culture and public life came together in Berlin in a host of different forums to experience and help shape the diversity of Baltic Sea cooperation. Some 1000 of them were present when Federal President Gauck gave his impressive speech in this connection at the Federal Foreign Office. “Cooperation in the Baltic Sea region is a model for other regions around the world,” he noted. “People everywhere are on the lookout for examples ... and able and willing to learn from the Baltic Sea experience,” he added.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One thing I’d particularly like to draw your attention to is our efforts to encourage people‑to‑people contacts by staging the Baltic Sea NGO Forum and Baltic Sea Youth Session. Both events were attended by a large number of civil society representatives. Here, too, we followed up on a recommendation of the 20th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference. We share your opinion: everywhere in the Baltic Sea Region we need a vital civil society, critical and committed citizens, especially among the young generation.

The Baltic Sea Youth Session, which was held at the Federal Foreign Office during the Baltic Sea Days in Berlin, was the first event of its kind. Some 100 young people from all around the Baltic Sea discussed their visions and ideas for the Region and articulated them in an impressive resolution. At a meeting we organized to bring Baltic Sea Region parliamentarians together with young people and NGO representatives, a meeting some of you yourselves attended, you saw how much these young people and civil society representatives value dialogue with policy-makers.

After long negotiations that Germany had consistently and actively supported and driven for­ward, we finally managed to agree on simplified visa rules for local border traffic between Poland and Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast. This will help the Region grow together and simplify life for people living in these areas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Germany has attached great importance, too, to cooperation in the field of education and culture. We’ve been keen to involve the young generation in this work, our aim is to make the Baltic Sea Region a region of knowledge and education in the fullest sense.

Ars Baltica, the CBSS cultural network based in Schleswig-Holstein, plans to increase its input into the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and to work with the Northern Dimension’s Partnership on Culture to ensure that culture achieves higher priority in Baltic Sea Region cooperation.

During our presidency we’ve made progress on the project for a virtual textbook on Baltic Sea history. Funding is now in place and the work can begin. The idea is to explore the shared history and culture of the nations and regions around the Baltic Sea. Under the direction of Academia Baltica in Schleswig-Holstein, a large number of renowned historians from the Region will be involved in this important work.

In June 2012 Hamburg organized a major Baltic Sea education conference focusing on the transition from school and university to employment. Here the Baltic Sea Region offers many examples of best practice that can help address urgent problems such as youth unemployment, shortages of skilled labour or high rates of school drop-outs.

Reducing youth unemployment and promoting labour mobility were both important goals of the Baltic Sea Labour Forum established during our CBSS presidency. The Forum was established in November 2011 in Hamburg. Its steering committee composed of representatives of both sides of industry and the political community convened for the first time in April 2012. The German Government was very pleased to contribute to the success of this initiative of German MP Franz Thönnes. And we plan to continue our support, for of course we’re keen to promote sustainable growth and social progress across the whole Region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In addition to the three priorities I’ve just described, we’ve of course actively taken forward the work on the long-term priorities of the CBSS and its various expert groups.

Let me draw your attention today to just a few examples:

1. Environmental protection and energy policy

Both through the decisions it took last year and its choice of topic for this year’s conference, the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference has confirmed yet again that sustainability plays a key role in Baltic Sea Region cooperation.

During our presidency the CBSS Expert Group on Sustainable Development – Baltic 21 identified climate change, sustainable rural and urban development as well as sustainable consumption and produc­tion as priorities.

Since many of the Baltic 21 projects are also flagship projects under the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, the CBSS is playing an important role in enhancing the coherence and effectiveness of Baltic Sea Region cooperation.

We’ve by and large succeeded in building up a functioning network of governmental and non‑governmental organizations under the Baltic 21 label. Dedicated to promoting environmentally sound and sustainable development, the network is playing a key role in making the Baltic Sea Region a model of sustainability.

However, the activities of important bodies such as the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) or the Baltic Sea Region Energy Cooperation (BASREC), the Baltic Sea countries’ main energy forum, have also contributed to sustainable development across the Region. Baltic Sea Region energy ministers met in May 2012 under the chairmanship Economic Affairs Minister Rösler to discuss how to enhance the Region’s energy security as well as new technologies for increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies. A BASREC fund to promote concrete projects in the field of windpower and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is now up and running.

The German CBSS presidency saw the various high-level meetings held during this period as a splendid opportunity for in-depth and frank discussion also of politically sensitive issues such as energy security. Such issues were on the agenda both at the energy ministers meeting and at the Baltic Sea Summit in Stralsund in late May 2012. After tough negotiations, CBSS foreign ministers succeeded at their extraordinary meeting in February 2012 in agreeing for the first time on a CBSS Declaration on Energy Security.

At the Summit in May Commission President Barroso hailed the foreign ministers’ energy security declaration as a key document endorsed by the EU’s two leading energy suppliers, Norway and Russia, as well as by their biggest customers in the EU. This is something of which we’re rightly extremely proud. Taking up one of the concerns voiced by the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, the Declaration explicitly emphasizes the need for the highest standards to be observed in the civil use of nuclear energy.

With these successes the CBSS has laid the foundations for greater mutual trust as well as closer cooperation on energy issues in the Baltic Sea Region.

2. Maritime policy

In the CBSS Expert Group on Maritime Policy, the German presidency followed up on the work of the 20th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference. Our aim was to promote greater link­age between initiatives of the various stakeholders here and ensure a more joined-up and results-oriented approach.

In this area we were particularly keen to intensify marine research and strengthen maritime economy clusters in the Baltic Sea Region.

One of these cross-sectoral projects is what’s known as Integrated Maritime Spatial Planning (BaltSeaPlan), a project geared to promoting the development and use of offshore windpower.

We also took forward the work on the SUBMARINER project. This project aims to explore how technological innovations can help both to avoid environmental pollution and to develop new products in the field of health, food and energy which ensure that marine resources are used sustainably.

Our third area of activity here was the Clean Baltic Sea Shipping project. In this connection we organized a special workshop at which we aimed to present not only the whole spectrum of innovative technologies designed to reduce ship emissions but also to stimulate interest in the use of climate-friendly fuels for shipping and ports.

In all these ways I think we’ve done a good deal to give practical effect to the suggestions the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference has made in this area.

3. Civil protection in the Baltic Sea Region

As far as civil protection in the Baltic Sea Region is concerned, Germany was successful in getting HELCOM to establish, in line with a recommendation made by the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, a new working group on dumped chemical munitions.

The new working group – HELCOM MUNI – is chaired jointly by Germany and Poland.

The aim is to feed the work being done at national level into HELCOM’s own work, collate the extensive reports prepared in this connection by Baltic Sea countries and publish a HELCOM report that covers the entire Baltic Sea Region.

The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg has been very active both in the CBSS and in the context of the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region in the area of disaster prevention and civil protection. It’s cooperating closely here with the Russian civil protection ministry (EMERCOM), which will take over coordination of this area during the Russian CBSS presi­dency.

4. Combating human trafficking

During our presidency the CBSS Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings (TF‑THB) concentrated on improved capacity-building, i.e. training stakeholders both to identify cases of trafficking and in counter-trafficking measures.

The primary goal is and remains to prevent human trafficking for the purposes of exploitation by promoting more effective partnerships at national and regional level and a better understanding of the way in which traffickers operate.

To this end the Task Force has organized various projects especially of a cross-border and cross-sectoral nature to train consular staff, for example. It has published a valuable manual in this connection and also runs training courses.

Over the years ahead the Task Force plans to widen its strategic focus to include forms of exploitation that have received less attention to date, when people are forced, for example, into begging or committing minor crimes.

Information platforms such as the Baltic Sea Region – Information Management to Prevent Trafficking project and the Expert Group for Cooperation on Children at Risk (EGCC) have contributed to the fight against human trafficking by networking effectively to build closer links between a range of organizations active in this field both inside and outside the Baltic Sea countries. The Expert Group for Cooperation on Children at Risk also examined what can be done at an early stage to help protect children from sexual violence and exploitation and to strengthen respect for children’s rights in the Region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One of the aims of our CBSS presidency was to make the organization more effective and better prepared for the challenges of the future. For we want the CBSS to remain a ‘pioneer of regional cooperation’ and ‘symbol of regional identity’ also in the years ahead.

The work we’ve done implementing our presidency programme over this past year has ensured, I believe, that the CBSS is now heading in the right direction and picking up speed. But of course we still have a long way to go.

In the interest of coherence and continuity, we invited Russia at an early stage to join us in developing and taking forward our presidency programme. In this way the Russian CBSS presidency will be able to build effectively on the basis that’s now in place.

After the Stralsund Summit, Federal Chancellor Merkel handed over the presidency to Russia.

It’s now the Russian Federation at the helm of the organization. It’s my firm belief that under the Russian presidency the CBSS will continue heading in the right direction. The organization is now in very good hands.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the German Government I can assure the Russian presidency and all CBSS members that Germany will continue to do everything we can to achieve our common goals. We remain an active member of the CBSS family. Let me wish the incoming presidency good luck and every possible success – or as seafarers like to put it, I hope you’ll always have favourable winds and water beneath your keel.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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