The Parliamentary Dimension of Co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region
Parliamentarians are elected directly by the people. The parliamentary dimension of co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region thus contributes to the democratic legitimacy of the co-operation. It constitutes a political driver for action for the benefit of the Region and its citizens.
The role of parliamentarians is manifold. Parliamentarians are the ears and voice of the grassroots in their constituencies; they raise awareness and build opinion; they push issues in parliaments; they exert political pressure on governments and act as watchdogs to scrutinize governmental decisions and action; and as legislators, parliamentarians initiate and adopt legislation and budgets.
The Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC) was established in 1991 as a forum for political dialogue between parliamentarians from the whole Baltic Sea Region. BSPC gathers parliamentarians from altogether 27 parliaments and parliamentary organizations around the Baltic Sea. Consequently, the BSPC constitutes a unique and comprehensive political platform on which all the EU- and non-EU countries of the Baltic Sea Region can co-operate on an equal footing. Hence, BSPC contributes to a transparent, democratic and progressive political process, as well as to practical solutions, in the Baltic Sea Region.
The Resolution from the annual BSPC Conference, directed at the governments, the CBSS and the EU, should be regarded as a consolidated manifestation of the political recommendations and requests of parliamentarians from the entire region. The Resolution from the 21st BSPC in August 2012 addressed issues such as co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region, environmental health, energy co-operation, integrated maritime policy, and labour market and economic development. The Resolution highlighted the need to improve co-operation between stakeholders in the Region, e.g. by promoting interaction between the North-West Russia Socio-Economic Development Strategy, the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, and the Northern Dimension.
Environmental issues were, as always, emphasized in the Resolution, and governments were urged to fulfill all their commitments under the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. Shipping safety, energy efficiency, renewable energies and augmented efforts for innovation were called for to strengthen the competitiveness of the Baltic Sea Region. Forceful measures to combat youth unemployment must be launched. A fundamental request is that governments make sustained efforts to facilitate mobility within the Region and tear down administrative and physical hurdles, such as visa restrictions between EU- and non-EU- countries, for an unimpeded movement of people and enterprises.
The main theme of the upcoming 22nd BSPC in Pärnu in August 2013 will be Innovation and Competitiveness of the Baltic Sea Region. In a general sense, innovation is a means of strengthening economic progress, competitiveness and social welfare. It is therefore an inherent part of the efforts to secure the position and develop the advantages of the Baltic Sea Region in a wider international and global perspective.
Innovation should be promoted both in the private and the public sector. This can be achieved by economic and administrative incentives and by providing favourable conditions for innovative and creative endeavours. In an industrial perspective, there is a huge potential for innovation in emerging markets for e.g. green growth, energy efficiency, infrastructure and logistics. However, innovation is not confined to industrial production, but should be encouraged in administrative sectors and for social governance as a whole. How to adapt the educational system to current and future knowledge needs? How to organize and administer health and social welfare in a society with changing demographics and a strained resource base? How to define and organize a modern public sector and its interplay with the private sector? Those are but a few of the impending societal questions and challenges that beg for innovative solutions and approaches.
It will be inevitable to dispense with established procedures and to embrace novel thinking and approaches: A small example of an innovative political-administrative solution is the recent decision by the three Baltic States to establish a common system for state-funded procurement of medicines and medical equipment. Even the Baltic Sea Region co-operation itself could be improved by innovation. The challenges for the Region, such as e.g. environmental sustainability, labour market co-operation and mobility, infrastructure and logistics, and combating organized crime, require innovative forms of co-operation and governance that transcend physical and organizational borders.
A basic tenet of enhanced co-operation and cohesion in the Region is to encourage the evolution of a deliberate division of labour between stakeholders, aiming at strengthening their comparative advantages and, by synergies, their combined capacity to manage the challenges of the Region. The concept of multi-level governance implies an interaction between national, regional, local, and civic stakeholders on a vertical axis. It should also be supplemented by a horizontal dimension, which embraces multi-sectoral governance in order to integrate various policy sectors into a holistic approach. This adds up to what could be called a multi-dimensional mode of governance in the Region.
At the end of the day, though, the value and success of co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region – whatever its name or whoever is responsible – will be judged by its capacity to deliver tangible and positive results in people’s everyday lives.