Boosting competition and contributing to innovation will see Baltic region blossom in Europe

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Nordic countries and the Baltic States must work together to sharpen their competitive edge and contribute to innovation – only by doing so will the Baltic region emerge as a winner in a globalising world, write Nordic Council of Ministers Secretary-General Halldór Ásgrímsson and Baltic Development Forum Chairman Uffe Ellemann-Jensen in a joint article in the Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper. Stronger ties would also help to ease the consequences of the financial crisis.

Together, the Nordic countries and the Baltic States form the ninth biggest economic space in the world, Ásgrímsson and Ellemann-Jensen write. The history of this economic space has not been simple, but highly fragmented. And right now the nations in the region and their political leaders are faced with a choice: whether to strive for more effective cooperation or go it alone and fight their own corners. The Nordic countries are clearly in favour of working together, and this is the end everyone needs to work towards, the former ministers feel.

"We all need to learn how to make better use of other countries' experience and how to share the knowledge we have so as to more effectively introduce new strategies," Ásgrímsson and Ellemann-Jensen write. "Economic success depends on a joint contribution to research and education, innovation, creativity and enterprise."

The former ministers feel that more efficient joint supervision of financial markets and the economy and exchange of experience would help to alleviate the financial crisis, which has hit Iceland and the Baltic States the hardest. It is in light of the recession that it is easiest to understand the importance of working together in the name of free trade and an open economic space and against protectionism. "That’s why we’re battling border obstacles that get in the way of the increased movement of goods, services, labour, skills and new business," Ásgrímsson and Ellemann-Jensen write.

The Baltic Sea Strategy, which European Union ministers are likely to approve in its current form, will represent an effective tool in realising ambitions. The strategy is designed to boost welfare, openness, security and the sense of well-being in the region, as a result of which the Nordic Council of Ministers is taking an active role as a partner in its implementation and awaits support for the strategy at the highest level of politics in all of the Baltic Sea member states of the EU.

The benefits the Baltic Sea Strategy may bring for the citizens of the region and how the cooperation between the Nordic countries – which has been ongoing for decades – may prove useful in the implementation of the strategy were issues which Triin Opp, a communications adviser with the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia, wrote about in the latest edition of Eurokratt, the magazine issued by the represenation of the European Commission in Estonia.

Travelling from Warsaw to Tallinn by train can take as much as several days. The idea is almost utopian, since there is no railway service between Tallinn and Riga, and so the journey would have to be made via Minsk and St Petersburg. Simpler and less time-consuming is to travel by car or bus, or better yet to fly. From the environmental point of view, however, it is doing a disservice.

Restoring and connecting the railway networks of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with those of the rest of Europe has been a subject of discussion for many years. It would contribute to the movement of both people and goods, enliven the economy and bring in money. Nevertheless, Rail Baltica is still a dream. Eliminating pollution on the Baltic Sea was, until a few years ago, not even a dream, but more a subject of black humour. People laughed at the fact that rescue services personnel would keep a watchful eye on the weather reports whenever there was an oil spill in the hope that the wind would push the spill into their neighbour’s waters and pass the buck onto them.

The growing concern of the public about the health and safety of the Baltic Sea and the constant warnings issued by experts have borne fruit. The Baltic States, the Nordic countries and Poland and Germany have come to recognise the seriousness of the situation and the need to act. This is reflected in the EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy, which was championed by the likes of former European parliamentarians Alexander Stubb (the current Finnish Foreign Minister) and Toomas Hendrik Ilves (the Estonian president).

Halldór Ásgrímsson and Uffe Ellemann-Jensen’s article was published in Finland’s Swedish-language Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper on 5 October 2009 – the day that the Baltic Development Forum began in Stockholm.

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