Suspicions inhibiting development of Baltic Sea region

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The sooner suspicions are shaken off in cross-border enterprise, the better for the development of the Baltic Sea region, says Carita Pettersson, the director of the Estonian office of the Council of Ministers of the Nordic Countries. This lack of belief is hampering the success of both institutions and the people who work in them.

"It's about time the governments in the Baltic Sea region started getting something out of cross-border cooperation," Pettersson remarked at a conference on international higher education partnerships held in Tartu on 16 June. "It represents a perfect opportunity to make the region more open and attractive. It's of vital importance as well in guaranteeing the competitive ability of Northern Europe as one of the four priorities of the European Union's Baltic Sea strategy."

The fact that politically sensitive issues affect cross-border cooperation is one that has also been recognised by the Association of European Border Regions. Only a handful of border regions assist universities and research institutes in active international partnerships, the association claims. Amongst other things, this is stifling the EU's attempts to overcome obstacles in retaining scientists, recognising curricula and, more broadly, in creating a common area of European research.

The Nordic countries have enjoyed successful cross-border cooperation for decades. For example, citizens of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have been able to travel between these countries without a passport and live in them without requiring a residence permit since 1954. They have also been able to work in the other countries without a special permit since 1982, and examinations are equally valid in all of the countries. Since the expansion of the EU in 2004, such partnerships are now also being supported by European funds.

How the universities and research institutes on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea can benefit from and promote cross-border cooperation was a topic discussed in Tartu by advocates of higher education and both regional and local development.
One of the seminar's key speakers was Sigrid Hedin from the Nordregio research centre, who presented a brand new report on the role of universities in driving development in the Baltic Sea region.

"Cooperation between the higher education institutions in different countries in our region is so important," said Viktor Trasberg, director of the Centre for Baltic Studies. "We have shared interests not only in academic research but also in common study programmes. This is particularly true of subjects connected to the environment, economic integration and international partnerships." The seminar was attended by representatives of higher education and research institutes and cross-border cooperation interest groups from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Russia and Belarus.
The seminar was a joint project of the Baltic Euroregional Network and the Association of European Border Regions and was organised by the Institute of Politics and Government of the University of Tartu, the Peipsi Center for Transboundary Cooperation and the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia.

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