European Commission launches Strategy to boost development of Baltic Sea Region

Five years on from enlargement, the Baltic Sea region is facing pressing challenges including the deteriorating state of the Baltic Sea, poor transport links, barriers to trade and energy supply concerns. These problems have been exacerbated by a lack of effective coordination.The Strategy, presented by 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 Baltic Sea Region is facing several important challenges. The state of the sea is deteriorating due to excessive discharges of nitrates and phosphates and biodiversity is under threat. 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 Baltic Sea is surrounded by eight EU Member States and Russia. Many reports and action plans have been produced in the past, but with limited effect. There is a strong need for better coordination of the numerous bodies involved. Many of the current challenges are in EU policy fields. EU Structural Funds programmes in the region provide a basis to strengthen cooperation.

The Commission addresses its proposals to the Member States but also recognises that many of the challenges can only be met by good cooperation with Russia. The Commission recommends boosting this cooperation through existing initiatives, notably the " Northern Dimension", the common policy of the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland.

"First of a kind” strategy

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 cornerstones 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. In particular, 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.

Examples of projects

  • Phosphates will be removed in detergent in all Member States with the aim of reducing nutrients in the sea.
  • A “Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan” will be implemented to better connect Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to European networks.
  • The ‘Rail Baltica’ will connect Warsaw to Tallinn by 2013 with a target speed of 120 km per hour.
  • A joint maritime surveillance system will be created.
  • A fund for innovation and research will be set-up, using national and private funding to tailor research activities to the specific strengths of the region.