Friday, 13 March 2020 11:43

EUSBSR in the eyes of neighbours: common issues and cooperation

Written by  Let's communicate!

Harry S. Truman once said: “All will concede that in order to have good neighbours, we must also be good neighbours. That applies in every field of human endeavour.” In the framework of Baltic Sea Region and EUSBSR we can also talk about importance of good neighbourhood.


How to be good neighbours? Why it is important to be good neighbours? Why it is important to have good neighbours? This and much more was discussed with Horizontal Action (HA) Neighbours coordinator Juhani Ailio from Centrum Balticum Foundation.

The purpose of HA Neighbours is to bring together stakeholders in the EU and neighbouring countries, North Western territories of the Russian Federation, Norway, Belarus and Iceland, in a constructive, mutually advantageous manner, since neighbouring countries represent a significant portion of the whole Baltic Sea region. Worth to mention, Baltic Sea region should be defined not only by the sea itself. The Baltic Sea region and the EUSBSR is so much more.


"Interaction creates understanding and understanding lessens fears and prejudices"

“To begin with, we immediately see just by looking at the map that Iceland is the furthest country of the BSR neighbours under EUSBSR, and it is not the part of the Baltic Sea basin, which in effect means it has very little effect on the ecological state of the Baltic Sea. However, Iceland is also one of the Nordic countries and is connected to them with many economic ties. There are trade, flight and ship connections, education and innovation cooperation and tourism, for example. Even though, these connections would still exist without the EUSBSR, the most potential and opportunities in the region could be made by coordinating them,” HA Neighbours coordinator Juhani Ailio explains.

Moving closer to the Baltic sea, we start to see even more impact. According to Juhani Ailio, Norway belongs partially to the Baltic Sea catchment area, which means, for example, the agricultural nutrients and waste waters have a direct effect on the environmental state of the Baltic sea. “In the case of Norway, even more important is that it is one of the worlds shipping giants. It controls more than 10 % of the whole worlds shipping fleets. Norwegian ships sail the Baltic sea affecting its safety and security and connect it to the world. It is very important to cooperate with Norway to ensure safe and secure shipping but also in developing more environmentally friendly ships.”

Third neighbouring country – Belarus – has no coastal link to the Baltic Sea, but it is connected to the Baltic Sea through rivers. “The rainfall it receives eventually reaches Baltic Sea. Belarus is also growing in terms of GDP rather well and there are many businesses, which would benefit from closer ties to the EU countries in the region. In growing societies, it is important to keep the environmental aspects in mind, but they can also be great sources of innovation in many different fields,” HA Neighbours coordinator remarks.

The last neighbouring country – Russia – should also be described in terms of BSR. “When talking about Russia we must remember that we are talking about a country that spreads halfway around the world. Only the north-western territories of Russia are part of the Baltic Sea region. The biggest city in the whole Baltic Sea region is St. Petersburg with roughly 5 million people. It is close to the population of the whole of Finland or all the Baltic states combined. What is more, north-west Russia is also a huge economy, with massive potential for trade with the other countries,” Juhani Ailio considers. Besides, easing visa requirements to visit Russia (E-visa), opens growing potential of tourism. Juhani Ailio also mentions that tourism is most only looked at as either in economic or ecological terms. These two angles often being the two competing forces used in trying to either advocate growing or lessening tourism. However, one should never underestimate the long-term impacts the tourism has in connecting people. “By opening the borders, we allow thoughts and ideas to flow too. Interaction creates understanding and understanding lessens fears and prejudices,” Juhani Ailio adds.



Good environmental state of the sea, security and connectivity require neighbourhood cooperation

Apparently, neighbouring countries vary in their linkages to the region. However, Juhani Ailio summarises that the water in the Baltic sea will not become clearer without having Russia, Belarus and, to some extent, also Norway and Iceland on board. “The good environmental state of the sea is the single most important goal of the whole region.”

HA coordinator points another major problem requiring togetherness – safety and security issues. The Baltic Sea has very high density of ships sailing around (see Baltic Sea Shipping visualization video created by HELCOM here). In case of a major accident in the sea, there is no time to share responsibilities. It is necessary to act and act fast for all countries in the region. Such possible scenario requires common preparation and further coordination. Third point, Juhani Ailio mentioned is that even though the most important problem in the region is the environmental state, right after it become the need to connect the peoples of the region and building a shared identity. “In a turbulent world, the people themselves need to be educated, open-minded and inter-connected to combat the rise of extremism, hate and other threats to stability and human rights,” Juhani Ailio finalises.

Creating added value to the Baltic Sea cooperation by working with all four neighbouring countries and regions is not always easy, keeping in mind that, though it is a good thing that the Baltic sea is one of the most interconnected multinational areas in the world, the governance structure is highly complex. HA Neighbours works in close cooperation with the relevant policy areas to identify potential partners for joint action in neighbouring countries, encourages non-EU interested stakeholders into mutually advantageous cooperation. “There are many different cooperation frameworks with overlapping interests. There are a huge variety of ways, in which it is possible to approach any given issue and in each area of cooperation the network of actors is different. Each country in the region has a slightly or sometimes massively different decision-making structure and it is sometimes just difficult to find the correct organization in a neighbouring country that has the authority to affect change in a policy area,  HA coordinator Juhani Ailio shares.

Finally, it can be said that although EUSBSR is a strategy of the European Union countries, many of the common issues can only be addressed in constructive cooperation with non-EU neighbouring countries in the region. By coordinating dialogue and cooperation with non-EU neighbouring countries it becomes easier to enable practical and beneficial cooperation in the framework of the overall guidelines of the EUSBSR. For these reasons, it is highly important to have strong and confident ties with neighbours to tackle common challenges and to mobilise the development potential of the Baltic Sea region.

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