By Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet
Urmas Paet navigates a course for the Baltic Sea strategy and for regional co-operation in other parts of Europe.
Did you know that the Baltic Sea is the shallowest sea in the world, just 52 metres deep on average? Its connection to the ocean is so narrow at the Danish straits that it takes decades for the waters of the Baltic Sea to circulate fully. Or that the Baltic Sea is one of the busiest maritime trade routes in the world?
The Baltic Sea's environmental fragility, its commercial importance and the vulnerability of its industries, such as fisheries, make a macro-regional approach crucial.
So the European Commission's strategy for the Baltic Sea region – laid out in June – is welcome. It has already broken ground: the consultations across the region were uniquely comprehensive.
If the strategy is acted on, it will be a modern milestone in a history of regional co-operation that stretches back to the Hanseatic League.
But it needs to be understood that we are not creating anything new. The strategy brings together numerous forms of co-operation and policies already being applied in the region. The problems are old and the possible solutions have long been known.
The failings in the past have been a lack of implementation and the lack of a cross-sectoral and trans-national vision. Too often we have not seen how actions in one area might influence other areas.
On a national level, countries acting individually risk creating a zero-sum game. Essentially, therefore, the strategy sets out a fuller, more coherent development path and should act as an accelerator.
But the proof of this pudding is in the eating. We need clear results. To get results, we need to focus on what is realistic. For that reason, Estonia would like to shorten the short-list of projects set out in the Commission's action plan. We need to concentrate on those that are most important and already enjoy widespread support.
That kind of concentration should help garner the clear political commitment needed from member states, the Commission and regional bodies. The commitment needed does not necessarily entail much more work, since so much is known of the problems and solutions. What is required is for us to shepherd goodwill and our collective efforts.
It also means we should understand what this strategy represents. This strategy is not an obligation for the EU; instead, it is an opportunity to revive a region. It is also an opportunity to create an example. Regional co-operation across Europe is so intense and on so many levels that there is now a clear need for co-operation to be managed.
It would be a welcome outcome if successful management of co-operation in the Baltic region were to encourage management initiatives elsewhere, particularly in the Danube area.
But the approach to managing co-operation would need to be tailor-made for each region, not off-the-shelf. Those who live by the Baltic Sea know that cold beer in a sauna is a match made in heaven. To some that might seem odd, but such differences make Europe interesting. Such peculiarities should also shape our approach to a region's problems.
"EuropeanVoice", 23 July 2009