The Success Story of the Baltic Sea involves the EU and Russia
The political landscape of the Baltic Sea region has changed significantly in 20 years. Two Nordic countries Finland and Sweden joined the European Union in 1995. The three Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – became independent in the early 1990s and in 2004 joined the EU.
The changing political landscape and common interests have resulted in more co-operation. The Baltic Sea is like a patchwork quilt consisting of various actors and forms of co-operation.
Citizens have taken an active role. Three Finns – Ilkka Herlin, Saara Kankaanranta and Anna Kotsalo-Mustonen – established an independent, non-profit foundation ‘the Baltic Sea Action Group’ (BSAG) in 2008. Pollution is a severe problem in the Baltic Sea, and the BSAG aims at saving the sea.
BSAG is a catalyst and an initiator that funds projects in co-operation with the private and public sectors as well as the civil society. BSAG is an inspiring example of people-led, grassroots level action. The foundation works with all Baltic Sea countries, including Russia.
The EU is a key player in the Baltic Sea region – but it could be even more influential. In the middle ages the Hanseatic League worked successfully to remove restrictions of trade in Northern Europe. I would like to think of the EU as a modern day version of Hansa.
The EU advances societal, economic and environmental development of the Baltic Sea by opening borders, advancing trade, enabling people to move and by protecting the sea. This is the aim of the EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy. The EU is a transformative actor that can increase well-being in the region.
However, a lot needs to be done. Countries on the Baltic Sea’s shores and even beyond have caused pollution. All Baltic Sea countries and other key actors, including the EU, must be involved in cleaning the sea.
It is particularly important to involve Russia in a credible and sustainable way. In fact, Russia has demonstrated a genuine commitment in saving the sea although this has not gained much visibility or attention in Europe.
EU-Russia relations are not a zero-sum game. This impression should be avoided by all stakeholders. The relations should not be built in a confrontational manner but in a co-operative climate seeking common solutions to common, practical problems such as the contamination of the Baltic Sea.
The Hanseatic League connected draftsmen and merchants all the way from Amsterdam to Novgorod. The sea didn’t separate the peoples of the Baltic Sea. It united them in an age when seafaring was the only means to transport goods and people from one place to another.
The Baltic Sea should be a uniting factor in modern day Europe too. It should interconnect not only the EU Member States but also the EU, its Member States and Russia.
Making the Baltic Sea region a success story – and making the EU a success story in the Baltic Sea – requires candid and open co-operation. Initiatives that increase trust and decrease confrontation are welcome because trust is fundamental for the dynamic development and security of the Baltic Sea and 90 million inhabitants in the Baltic Sea area.
More integration – not less – amongst the Baltic Sea countries involves both the EU and Russia.