(photo by Waldemar Brandt from www.unsplash.com)
How the EUSBSR can capitalize on the Baltic Sea Region cooperation networks?
The Baltic Sea Region has a long history of cooperation. This fact is very strongly present in the collective memory of its inhabitants. From the times of Hanza through an intensive post-second-world-war collaboration of Nordic countries to the whole region’s integration after the EU enlargement in 2004, the Baltic cooperation has been driven by pragmatism and the will to make the region strong, innovative and sustainable.
28. April 2020
The number of organizations from different governance level prove that the Baltic Sea Region has a very diverse and well-embedded institutional environment, which can be even better utilized by macro-regional strategy framework. The European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) serves as a perfect platform to help transfer solutions, knowledge, innovations, etc and make them truly sustainable in the whole region.
The existent networks in the Baltic Sea are numerous and diversified. They include intergovernmental bodies, like the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission HELCOM), Vision And Strategies Around The Baltic Sea (VASAB), ARS BALTICA; voluntary organizations of cooperating regions: Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC), Euroregions with Euroregion Baltic as an example, or The Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions’ The Baltic Sea Commission (CPRM BSC) and cities (Union of Baltic Cities, UBC). Besides, there are also the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC) and a Forum of non-governmental organizations. This variety can be also observed in a thematic coverage of the organizations, with some concentrating on a very specific or narrow topic and others covering many themes and policies, most of which are of interest to the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Talking about BSR cooperation bodies one should not forget about networks of special interest groups (e.g. the Baltic Sea Trade Union Network, BASTUN), universities and research institutes (e.g. The Baltic Sea Region University Network, BSRUN; The Baltic University Programme, BUP), clusters (e.g. ScanBalt ) or a plethora of projects.
But how the organizations and networks in the Baltic Sea Region can actually support the EUSBSR in practice?
In many cases, the synergy between the EUSBSR and existing Baltic networks seems very natural and unquestionable, as is in the case of the Helsinki Commission, HELCOM. ‘HELCOM and the EUSBSR complement and benefit a great deal from each other’, says Dominik Littfass, HELCOM’s Communication Secretary. And continues: ‘The current EUSBSR objectives of “saving the sea, connecting the region and increasing prosperity” overlap with those of HELCOM, especially on the protection of the marine environment. Since the start of the EUSBSR, HELCOM has been heavily involved in its policy areas, horizontal actions, flagships, and Interreg projects, often in a leading role. The outcomes of these various processes led to concrete contributions to HELCOM work, such as on HELCOM recommendations, regional strategies, or status reports, all serving the attainment of our respective objectives. Some examples of fruitful cooperation are joint work on hazardous substances, pharmaceutical, waste and litter, nutrients inputs, climate change, as well as maritime spatial planning and sustainable shipping practices, among others’. There are plenty of similar complementarities in the Baltic Sea Region and many organizations whose goals perfectly suit the EUSBSR’s objectives. This is the case of VASAB, which fosters cooperation of 10 countries of the Baltic Sea Region in spatial planning and development and together with Helcom co-coordinates the EUSBSR horizontal action spatial planning, or Ars Baltica, the network connecting the Baltic Sea states by encouraging cultural cooperation and combining cultural policy development with close collaboration with cultural operators, which clearly support the EUSBSR Policy Area Culture.
At this point, it is worth acknowledging the role of various organizations and networks in the EUSBSR’s implementation. Being a part of the Strategy's governance system is important for the Union of the Baltic Cities. ‘UBC is one of three coordinators, together with the Swedish Institute and Norden Association representing the Baltic Sea NGO Network, of the Horizontal Action Capacity, as Paweł Żaboklicki, the Secretary-General of the organization explains. ‘Its task is to increase the project capacity, skills, and competence of all stakeholders involved in the Strategy, through the training programs. The other dimension of the Horizontal Action Capacity is to ensure broad participation of local and regional authorities as well as all other stakeholders. Manifold capacity building activities of HA Capacity include, among others, workshops for PAs/HAs, annual meetings of EUSBSR stakeholders, as well as support to other stakeholders such as PA Focal Points/steering group members, and managing authorities of two networks of ERDF and ESF. HA Capacity has also been responsible for organizing the Networking village and Participation Day linked to the EUSBSR Annual Fora. The UBC Commissions namely Sustainable Cities Commission, Safe Cities Commission, and Task Force on Youth Employment and Well-being have been running the EUSBSR flagship projects’.
Having experience in cross-border and transnational cooperation on a regional and local level, the organizations in the Baltic Sea Region can add an interesting perspective and context to the EUSBSR.
Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło, the Head of the Euroregion Baltic International Permanent Secretariat, claims that the ambition for all stakeholders of the EUSBSR should be to strive for good information flows, as well as multilevel and intersectoral communication. ‘In Euroregion Baltic, we believe there is still a room for improvement in this sector, especially when trying to raise awareness about the EUSBSR goals and activities and engage local and regional actors, small municipalities and NGOs’ she explains and shares some thoughts and good advice coming from her organization’s experience: 'To make the EUSBSR more transparent, it is essential to improve the organizational structure of the Strategy. In our opinion, it seems necessary to strengthen the role of the Policy Area Coordinators and Horizontal Action Coordinators and make them more visible. They should also reach more to local and regional stakeholders and, i.e. form smaller task force groups, enabling smaller actors to be more engaged. It is also crucial we further encourage the involvement of new partners, allowing those who were not active in the EUSBSR implementation to become an active partner. We also believe it would be good to develop the EUSBSR Annual Forum to be an arena for all stakeholders to meet, discuss the progress and needs for improvements, therefore we should invite more 'newcomers' and NGOs representatives to the Forums to engage them in the dialogue with PAC, HAC and NCs working with the Strategy’, she concludes.
In the times of the revision of the EUSBSR Action Plan, the cooperation between the EUSBSR policy level and various networks in the Baltic Sea Region seems particularly valuable. Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło points out that to make the EUSBSR a success it is important to involve the stakeholders in the region in the process of implementing, monitoring, and reviewing the Strategy. ‘There is a need for improved multi-level governance and the regional anchoring of the Strategy’, she explains. And continues: ‘Therefore Euroregion Baltic encourages the Baltic Sea regions to embed the EUSBSR in their regional action programs and development strategies’. Similar logic is shared by other organizations in the region. Dominik Littfass from HELCOM underlines that ‘the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, HELCOM’s strategic program of actions for attaining the good environmental status of our sea, coincides with the update of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region Action Plan. Here lies a great opportunity to align our future work even more towards our common goal: a healthy Baltic Sea’.
Looking at the numerous organizations and networks in the Baltic Sea Region and their devotion to tackling the challenges jointly, you just have to be an optimist about the future of the Region. The macro-regional cooperation framework represented by the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is designed to integrate and coordinate the work of all the relevant formal and informal BSR networks to fully benefit from their activities. During its ten-year-existence, the EUSBSR has done a lot to improve the capacity of BSR network governance, especially by bringing the many existing bodies together around the common goals of saving the sea, connecting the region, and increasing prosperity.
by Marta Czarnecka-Gallas, Let’s Communicate!