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27.11.2018 09:35

“Reform, rethink, revival” – envisioning the future of Baltic Sea region cooperation

The seminar “Future of Baltic Sea Region Cooperation” organized by BALEX Studies and HA Neighbours gathered a good number of participants at the University of Turku Law School on November 23 2018. As the tensions in the Baltic Sea region have increased, actors in the region have had to find new ways of working and to redefine their role. One of these actors is the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) which was the focus of the seminar.

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Photo: CBSS Secretariat/Flickr
The independent CBSS Vision Group published a vision paper in May 2018 to create recommendations for a vision for the Baltic Sea Region beyond 2020. The paper set the framework for the seminar discussions.

Too many actors in the Baltic Sea region?

The keynote speakers Chair of the Vision Group Petteri Vuorimäki and Vision Group Member Astrid Thors reflected their work in the Vision Group and the role of the CBSS in the future of Baltic Sea region cooperation. According to Vuorimäki, there is a myriad of actors in the Baltic Sea region, even too many. To make most of the resources, the amount of actors should be critically reflected. In addition, making most of the resources and maximizing output requires a leader. However, in international cooperation a well-known challenge is that everyone wants to coordinate but no one wants to be coordinated. But, CBSS has many perquisites to establish an entity to take a lead in the region.

Thors was calling after a bolder CBSS that could take a political leadership role in the region as political dialogue is needed more than ever. CBSS could also take a more active role in the climate change combat when cross-border cooperation is needed to strengthen resilience.

“The Baltic Sea region cooperation is near perfect – on paper”

After the key note speeches followed a panel discussion. The panel was formed, in addition to Thors and Vuorimäki, by Marko Joas, Professor of Public Administration at Åbo Akademi, Dorotha Pyc, Professor of Law at University of Gdánsk and Stanislav Tkachenko, Professor at St Petersburg State University. First, the panelists commented on the speeches and the Vision Paper, and then analysed the future of the Baltic Sea region in general.

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Photo: CBSS Secretariat/Flickr

In the panel, Professor Tkachenko noted that CBSS is one of the only organisations that Russia is a full member of. This is important to keep in mind when reflecting on the future, as CBSS could become a test ground for new ways of cooperation. According to Professor Joas, multilevel governance is needed and cooperation should take place on all levels of society. Professor Pyc said the Baltic Sea region cooperation to be near perfect on paper, but not in practice. Thus, the challenge is how to combine particular interests and common good.

Not all the panelists agreed on the importance of the Baltic Sea region in Brussels, and in the EU in general. But, Vuorimäki pondered that one indication of the region’s significance could be the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, the first macro-regional strategy in Europe.  

What will happen in 20 years?

All the panelists agreed that CBSS will remain, and it will be needed in the future, too. They estimated that sooner or later the situation will get better, and there will be less tension in the region. One challenge might occur if CBSS enlarges beyond the Baltic Sea region and covers too many topics. This poses a threat to become too wide and to lose its core. According to Professor Joas, CBSS top priority should be political dialogue and its development.

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CBSS Deputy Director Bernd Hemingway. Photo: CBSS Secretariat/Flickr

CBSS Deputy Director Bernd Hemingway in his closing speech stressed the importance of people to people contact that “builds tremendous trust and helps us to find a way forward.”


Read the seminar programme here.


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