EUSBSR in successful cooperation: the ways forward

The set of articles on the EU’s macro-regional strategies (and the EUSBSR, in particular), was aimed at: first, informing the readers about present Baltic Sea countries’ issues; second, showing the role of numerous organizations involved in the progressive strategy’s implementation; and third, to visualise the strategy’s ways forward… 

At the last conference’s day, some ideas on future of the region have been deployed in order to assist the participants and the wider public of the Baltic strategy’s positive aspects; and this annual EUSBSR-22 forum has revealed some expected actions in the right directions.

Organisational unity
In the previous articles we already mentioned those important impetus to the strategy’s implementation made during the last decade by such organisations as the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS, which celebrates these days its decade’s anniversary) and the Vision & Strategies Around the Baltic Sea (VASAB), the HELCOM (existing already for several decades) and Interreg, to name a few. These and other bodies have been actively involved in making the EUSBSR strategy’s concept a reality. Actually, it is these organisations that are supposed to deliver on the forum’s motto – “putting plans into practice”.
These bodies and organisations are performing their own specific functions in sub-regional cooperation: thus, CBSS Director-General G. Poznanski mentioned the Council’s “own three goals”, i.e. active involvement in sustainability, energy security and the regional identity.
Recent HELCOM report on the state of the Baltic Sea clearly shows that the measures taken so far within the Baltic Sea strategy framework, such as cutting nutrient inputs (nitrates and phosphorus), fighting pollution and working to protect biodiversity, have made a difference to the state of the Baltic Sea marine environment.
More in: http://stateofthebalticsea.helcom.fi/in-brief/summary-of-findings/

The ways forward: business priority in political economy
Two aspects shall be mentioned in this regard: political-economy’s component and business: first, a “political” component in a new sub-regional growth paradigm. There are seven “golden requirements” that the national governance systems shall implement in order to be fit for contemporary challenges. The EU institutions have already made it easier for the national governance to modernise existing political economy’s priorities.
Thus, for example, the Commission strongly encourages governments to include in their recovery and resilience plans investment and reforms in the following priority areas:
= Frontloading of future-proof clean technologies and acceleration of the development and use of renewables; = Improvement of energy efficiency in public and private buildings (the Nordic states have already progressed in this sphere (see: www.effect4buildings.se); = Promotion of future-proof clean technologies to accelerate the use of sustainable, accessible and smart transport, charging and re-fuelling stations and extension of public transport; = Re-orienting national priorities towards implementing most vital SDGs for national strategies; = Fast rollout of rapid broadband services to all regions and households, including fiber and modern 5-6G networks; = Modernising digitalisation of public administration and services, including judicial and healthcare systems; = Scaling-up the increase in the EU’s industrial data cloud capacities and the development of the most powerful, cutting edge and sustainable processors for SMEs; and = Re-skilling and up-skilling in the process of education systems adaption to support digital skills with a further educational and vocational training for all ages.
Second, it seems that the forum’s organizers missed a vital component in the strategy’s perspective implementation: support for the “spirit of entrepreneurship” and businesses in the states and through the sub-regional cooperation, e.g. through active private investment in a wider variety of energy sources, diversification of energy mix and green transition.
Finally, sustainable development objectives have been already at the center a European policy-making for the recent decade through the “legal connections” to the EU Treaties and consequential inclusion in main Commission’s projects, sectoral policies and initiatives. Hence, the EU has been fully committed to delivering on the SDGs’ implementation, as is outlined, for example, in the European “green deal” and in the Commission’s staff working document “Delivering on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: comprehensive approach”, adopted in November 2020.

More in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/delivering_on_uns_sustainable_development_goals_staff_working_document_en.pdf

The new political economy’s paradigm reveals a clear perspective for the states around the world and in the EU being oriented –firs of all – towards optimal directions in the European and global competitiveness. So far socio-economic situation in the present global ratings shows that, for example, the three Baltic States still needed additional impetuses. Thus, Estonia occupies 30th rank, Lithuania 35th and Latvia is on the 49th place in competitiveness among 138 states in the world; political elites should treat such estimates as serious signal for urgent steps to increase competitiveness. However, some states, e.g. Latvia in its national-2020 plan included only a very modest task, to “reach 45th rank” in the global competitiveness index.
See: https://www.integrin.dk/2021/01/23/political-economy-in-european-integration-new-growth-patterns-part-ii/.

The forum’s aftertaste
The forum has gathered at a difficult time for the member states, the EU and the global community’s governance: unprecedented military Russia-Ukraine conflict seriously aggravated already existing European and world-wide challenges. That was generally the main reason that the leaders of the EU member states around the Baltic Sea preferred to concentrate on national issues rather than “wasting time” by going to Finland’s forum: a dramatic comparison from all the previous forums (except a couple conducted online due to pandemic). At least, the leaders could have shown their solidarity with the importance of the EUSBSR’s principles and goals through the video-messages, as was the case in the previous forums.
The forum’s motto on “turning plans to implementation” made the participants’ attention easier to grasp the content but, at the same time difficult to concentrate: on one side, the audience waited for proven examples of the strategy’s results, on another side, so many quickly changing in time priorities made it quite difficult to follow the progress…
The EU institutions, particularly the Council, underlined that macro-regional strategies should maintain a targeted and result-driven implementation with clear European added value, defined results, and that regular monitoring and reviews should be ensured, with the reliable and comparable data regarding the implementation process; as well as recognising progress done by the participating countries.
The forum’s organisers were facing a difficult task of “uniting” most vital for the EU’s sub-regional strategy global challenges and pressing modern regional problems in a couple of words in the forum’s title. Hence, the EUSBSR’s objectives of saving the sea, connecting the region and increasing prosperity are definitely not fully in line with the forum’s motto: prosperous, connected and green BSR. On another side, the Finish choice in the forum’s motto might actually be true: among eight EUSBSR member states these priorities can serve as a “common denominator”, except that in different states the ways of implementation are greatly varied.
The modern EU political guidance has oriented the BSR development towards double transition (digital and green), full implementation of sustainable development goals (SDGs), circular growth and energy security. Hence, one of vital question has not been answered: how to secure energy supplies for the European citizens and businesses through the going-on Russia-Ukraine military conflict; besides, is Russian exclusion from the strategy’s implementation not really damaging the strategy’s outcomes?
As to sustainability: during last seven years we have seen that the sustainability concept was covering almost all spheres of people and states’ existence, including economics and politics, culture and education, science and business, technology and innovation. Mentioned all these things is just to acknowledge that this SDGs’ complexity, actually, presents major problems in their implementation.
Well, then something else: the Institute decided to make these articles also in view of assisting the forum organizers to sum-up the ideas expressed and formulate some fruitful and perspective recommendations.

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