The Baltic Sea Region (BSR) and Business: a model for European Macro Regions?
The Baltic Sea Region is one of the pioneers of the EU macro-regional policy. In its summit in June, The Employers’ Group within the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has defined recommendations for the EU Strategy on the Baltic Sea Region.The Employers’ Group within the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) met in Helsinki and Stockholm on 14 & 15 June 2012 to discuss both the business community's views on the Baltic Sea Region cooperation and the EU Strategy on the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR).
In recent years, the EESC has been closely involved in matters and organised events relative to the Baltic Sea Region (BSR). It has adopted several opinions on the region, most recently on the first EU macro-regional strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Here, and also for other similar strategies, the EESC has called for organised civil society to be actively involved in order to ensure the successful implementation of these strategies in the field.
In many respects, the different national economies in the BSR complement each other well. This, in addition to their geographical proximity to one another, good neighbourly relations and a liberal market access policy, has facilitated sustainable economic growth, employment and welfare in the region.
Since the foundation of the European Union, also the Baltic Sea Region has to a great extent benefitted from the successes of the EU: the achievement of peace, the neighbourhood policy, single market and Common Agriculture and Fisheries’ Policy.
The BSR is first of all a key part of Europe. In this respect, it is open to contribute to the health and growth of the whole EU. This is the reason for the promotion of good practices and showing solidarity and readiness to cooperate with the other European regions.
The Baltic Sea Region is one of the pioneers of the EU macro-regional policy, which can provide best practice examples during the development of the other macro-regional strategies in the EU. The EU's Strategy for the BSR, together with its Action Plan and its Programme for 2007-2013, are on the right track to achieve the objectives; nevertheless, their implementation has essentially been quite fragmented and focus upon business environment, growth and economy has been weak.
Recommendations for the EU Strategy on the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR)
The following three new priorities of the EUSBSR strategy and programme for 2014-2020 are of crucial importance, and European business wishes to lend its full support to them:
“Connect the Region”
All efforts to develop and link up infrastructure and the transportation of goods, people, energy and information between the countries in the region, as well as between the region and other parts of Europe, should be given first priority.
Cooperation in information and communications technology (ICT) should be enhanced in this context. EU’s Trans-European Networks and the “Connecting Europe'” program for the coming years should take due account of the efforts to connect the infrastructure in BSR.
Transport infrastructure projects such as the Rail Baltic are considered of utmost importance for the region, therefore the implementation of ideas must be sped up.
It's important to aim to secure a 15 % increase in the volume of intra-regional trade and cross-border services by 2020: it is highly important that the EU internal market is completed and its functioning strengthened further. However, trade and economic cooperation with neighbouring Russia should also be actively facilitated through the further harmonisation of laws, regulations, customs and other procedures to spur cross-border economic activity. Stimulating entrepreneurship and SMEs is an important aspect here.
Save the Sea
Increased cooperation between the maritime surveillance authorities of all the states concerned should be prioritised, as maritime transport in the Baltic Sea is growing rapidly and the potential for a maritime man-made catastrophe is growing by the day. Attention should also be directed to the competitiveness in the sector of maritime transport, which should not be hampered by excessive environmental standards. The implementation of the sulphur directive must be postponed until 2020, as recommended by the opinion of the EESC.
There are two additional issues, which the Baltic Sea Region Programme should focus on, in coming years:
European business firmly believes that the EUSBSR should aim to reinforce the strength and values of the countries in order to contribute more positively to the European integration process. Firstly, by serving as an example and providing good practices and knowledge exchanges for the other regions, but also by contributing to the success of the European common policies, such as: single market, energy, sustainable development, SMEs, social cohesion, transport, neighbourhood policy.