On the 10th of June the European Commission presented its proposal for an EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.
Five years on from enlargement, the region is facing pressing challenges including the deteriorating state of the Baltic Sea, poor transport links, barriers to trade and energy supply concerns.
The state of the sea is deteriorating due to excessive discharges of nitrates and phosphates and biodiversity is under threat. Baltic region economies need to be better inter-connected. Statistics indicate an over-reliance on trade with immediate neighbours. The Baltic region is hampered by long distances, internally and with the rest of Europe: it takes 36 hours by train to reach Tallinn from Warsaw. Another concern is the isolation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in terms of energy supplies. Finally, with the increasing number of oil tankers using the sea as a highway, the threat of accidents is ever present.
The Strategy, presented by Danuta Hübner, Commissioner for Regional Policy, above all aims to maximise the development potential of the Member States and regions in the Baltic Sea area, which is home to nearly 100 million people. The strategy takes the form of a communication and an action plan with a list of 80 flagship projects, some of which have already been launched.
The four pillars of the strategy are to make this part of Europe:
Environmentally sustainable (e.g. process waste water);
Prosperous (e.g. promoting innovation in small and medium enterprises);
Accessible and attractive (e.g. improving transport links);
Safe and secure (e.g. better accident response).
This is the first time that the EU has developed such a comprehensive strategy at the level of a macro-region. It could inspire similar approaches in areas such as the Mediterranean or Danube basin. It constitutes a first step towards the regional implementation of the EU integrated Maritime Policy.
Between 2007 and 2013, the Baltic Sea Region will benefit from more than €50 billion of investment support under the Cohesion Policy and other EU funding, including €27 billion for improved accessibility, nearly €10 billion for the environment, €6.7 billion for competitiveness and €697 million for security and risk prevention.