EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

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    The study ‘Macro-regional strategies and their links with cohesion policy’, contracted by Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy and conducted by a consortium led by COWI company, aims first at describing the main features of each macro-region (Baltic, Danube, Adriatic and Ionian, and Alpine) through a range of macroeconomic, competitiveness, integration and governance indicators. It assesses to what extent the strategies contribute to coordination and synergies between European Structural and Investment Funds and other EU policies and instruments. The study also takes stock of strategies' main achievements and appraises their socio-economic impact. It also identifies the barriers to overcome and the drivers to use in order to make them more efficient and finally looks at the potential of the macro-regional approach to contribute to the future cohesion policy. 

    This comprehensive study is based on the analysis of existing literature, desk research, interpretation of hundreds of data, and a survey sent to more than six thousands macro-regional stakeholders. The report is composed of five documents: one core report summarising the main findings of the study and one annex per strategy compiling data and findings concerning each of them. 

    BERAS has initiated change towards an ecological recycling agriculture and society in many regions in Europe. Launched as an Interreg project in 2003, the experience gathered in transforming food systems was now picked up by the United Nations.   

    Sustainable food societies are based on local and organically grown food. (©Matlust/Christian Ferm)

    Why we need transformation in food systems

    In the recent stream of reports coming out revealing the levels of agrochemicals and toxins found in food, more consumers are turning to organically certified produce to avoid the health risks associated with chemical exposure. Pesticides and fertilizers reduce soil quality and nutrient content, as well as threaten local biodiversity. A more ecological form of agriculture is needed in order to reduce the volume of chemicals being used on crops and to protect the environment. To implement ecological agriculture, a different food systems approach is necessary.

    This transformation to ecological farming practices and a more sustainable food system has and is being implemented by BERAS International Foundation (IF). BERAS means Baltic Ecological Recycling Agriculture and Society. The foundation is built on three concepts, each designed to tackle a specific area of the food system, in order to convert the agricultural system to a more sustainable food network from farmer to consumer. Jostein Hertwig, CEO of BERAS IF says "BERAS is not only a farming system, but it is a food system in a holistic view".

    This food system was developed by international partners from around the Baltic Sea since 2003. In the early phase funded by Interreg IIIB, several research institutes from Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Poland and Germany did research all over the Baltic Sea and jointly collected data and practical examples for sustainable agriculture and food societies. Under the lead of Prof. Artur Granstedt of Södertörn University, Sweden, the three concepts were drawn up: Ecological Regenerative Agriculture, Sustainable Food Societies and Diet for a clean Baltic. "We saw that we needed to scale this up and implement the results that we had", remembers Jostein. This upscaling happened at the next stage from 2010-2013 with funding from Interreg IVB. Researchers teamed up with agricultural advisory services in Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Germany, Poland and Denmark and established a network of demonstration farms to help convert more farms to organic farming. At the same time, more municipalities connected themselves to the idea of sustainable food system. Having had a good start with sound collaboration across many countries' borders, the BERAS International Foundation was established in 2015. Its purpose was from now on to further spread the three concepts to more regions.

    The three concepts to transform food systems

    A Swedish farmer in Järna (Sweden) shows off his harvest of collard green from an ecological recycling agriculture farm. ©BERAS International

    The first and core concept of BERAS is Ecological Regenerative Agriculture (ERA). In ERA farming, nutrients are recycled and circulated within the farm through a balanced diverse crop rotation. Farmers do this by growing different crops with specific features on the same patch of land every year and by incorporating animal husbandry. Some plants take up nitrogen from the air, others can get phosphorous from the soil. From time to time, animal manure is applied as organic fertilizer. No mineral fertilizer or pesticides are used at all, and very little nutrients leak out into the environment. An ERA Guideline Manual (offered in 8 languages) is available on the BERAS International website to provide farmers with information on how to convert their farm to an ERA farm.

    The “Diet for a clean Baltic” has been very successfully implemented into meal plans in Södertälje municipality (Sweden) and has won many national awards. 24,000 meals are served every day, to both schools and elderly homes. ©Matlust/Christian Ferm

    The second BERAS concept, Sustainable Food Societies aims to connect ERA farms and farmers to other actors in the food chain process such as distributors, processors, wholesalers, consumers and to policymakers and civil society actors. "We saw that in order to get things going with better agriculture and food there should be such local food hubs", says Mr. Hertwig. Through establishing local food hubs, consumers are guaranteed fresh quality organic food through a food chain of local farmers and businesses who collaborate together to provide the final food product. These food hubs support local farmers and businesses. Thus, environmentally friendly food production is ensured and can develop to create more sustainable communities.

    60% of the food used in the “Diet for a Clean Baltic” meal plan is organic and local. Here, a farmer harvests fennel on an ecological recycling farm in Järna (Sweden). ©BERAS International

    The last BERAS concept is Diet for a Clean Baltic (DCB). DCB encourages individuals and communities to eat in a way that supports the BERAS concepts, i.e. local, organic and seasonal food with a smaller share of meat. By changing their everyday eating habits people can reduce the toxic release of chemicals into the Baltic Sea land and water environments, therefore protecting biodiversity, and stimulate their local economy.

    Ideas from the Baltic Sea region inspire food systems worldwide

    Lithuanian, Polish and Spanish chefs prepared food according to the “Diet for a Green Planet” at an international conference held in Södertälje in May 2014. ©URBACT "Diet for a Green Planet" /Christian Ferm

    The BERAS food system concepts have been successfully implemented in communities around the Baltic Sea and abroad. In Sweden, farmers who have converted their farms to ERA farms and follow the BERAS concepts have seen better gains, more income, and have been able to establish their own food hubs. Four farmers in Sweden, who collaborated to create a dairy farm, reported a 20% higher income compared to the standard organic system. "We think what we have done with BERAS for the Baltic Sea region, could really be a way forward for agriculture, food systems, and for societies, it's a holistic food system approach.", says Jostein.

    Project partners visit an ecological recycling farm in Mollet del Vallès (Spain). Mollet del Vallès aims to follow Södertälje and implement their own Sustainable Food Society and use locally produced organic products in school meal plans. ©URBACT "Diet for a Green Planet"

    Several towns in Europe such as Lomza (Poland), Moletai (Lithuania) and Mollet del Vallès (Spain), have also started to implement the Diet for a Clean Baltic concept, prompting it to be reshaped to Diet for a Green Plant with funding from the URBACT programme. Internationally BERAS' food system concepts have spread to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and India. "We don't have a ready-made solution, we only have an invitation to work together in order to develop sustainable food and sustainable food must always be done locally", says Jostein.

    In 2017, BERAS was selected to become a lead partner in a core initiative of the Sustainable Food Systems Program of the United Nations. (SFSP). Through this programme, the United Nations globally promotes sustainability along the food value chain in order to shift towards sustainable consumption and production in food systems. It is part of the core measure to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 12 'Sustainable Consumption and Production' adopted in 2015. SFSP uses real world experiences as a basis for learning and educating other initiatives on how to make food systems more sustainable, of which BERAS IF has many.

    On the BERAS International website a Diet for a Clean Baltic cookbook is available to offer inspiration and example recipes for chefs, food centers and consumers who want to prepare their own meals according to the BERAS diet concepts. ©URBACT "Diet for a Green Planet" /Christian Ferm

    The future

    Mr. Hertwig believes that BERAS can also go beyond transforming food systems to also tackling other global challenges. "The BERAS concept is in the family of agricultural concepts that can contribute positively to climate change mitigation. We actually have a proposal of how to reinstall agriculture as one of the major factors in order to save the climate, and we have all the measures available." Jostein Hertwig stresses: "Project funding is always too short - we would very much like to come back to Interreg at one stage".

    Jostein   Hertwig (BERAS International) and a colleague at the UN’s Food and   Agricultural Organisation in Rome. (© BERAS International)
    On the BERAS International website a Diet for a Clean Baltic cookbook is available to offer inspiration and example recipes for chefs, food centers and consumers who want to prepare their own meals according to the BERAS diet concepts. ©URBACT "Diet for a Green Planet" /Christian Ferm

    The 2018 Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region will focus mainly on EU cohesion policy after 2020 and the future of EU macro-regional strategies ("After 2020"). Other key topics: 'Environmental state of the Baltic Sea' and 'Digitalisation'.

    Watch a short welcome video

    On 13/14 June 2017, the 8th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) was held in Berlin, Germany. The Forum was hosted by the German Federal Foreign Office together with the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) - Baltic Sea Commission and in close cooperation with the European Commission.

    More than 800 participants from governments, international organisations, NGOs, universities, local and regional administrations, business and media discussed in more than 30 sessions and seminars a wide range of topics including cooperation with neighbouring countries, environmental and climate challenges, sustainable blue growth, inclusive digitalisation and cooperation in the transport sector.

    The EUSBSR Annual Forum in Berlin was opened by Sigmar Gabriel, German Vice-Chancellor and Federal Foreign Minister, Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Finnish President, and Sara Mazur, Vice President and Head of Research at Ericsson. Minister Gabriel stated that the European Union has brought the region’s countries together and considered the region as a pioneer of regional cooperation: "This region enables us to feel the EU’s peacebuilding capacity very clearly. Where once we had the Iron Curtain, which also divided the Baltic Sea, eight EU member states now work together as Baltic Sea countries." Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, former President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, talked about strong trust in the region which has resulted in a variety of networks and organisations working across borders. He also emphasized the essential roles of both people and institutions in the region by quoting Jean Monnet: “Nothing is possible without man, but nothing lasts without institutions. In the Baltic Sea region we have both”. Vice President and Head of Research at Ericsson, Sara Mazur considered connectivity in the Baltic Sea region in terms of new technological solutions. As “innovation happens when you work across borders”, Mazur strongly supports increased cooperation in the region.

    In a dedicated seminar on "Macro-regional strategies - what's in it for Cohesion Policy?", participants, including Director General for Regional and urban policy Marc Lemaitre, discussed to what extent macro-regional cooperation structures can facilitate collaborative solutions and encourage the alignment of activities and investment across territories. First experiences and results of the 'pilot' ERDF network of Managing Authorities in the Baltic Sea region, initially focussing on smart specialisation, were presented and discussed. Based on a study from the Interact programme, participants also discussed the added value of macro-regional strategies from the perspective of projects and programmes.

    Further background information:

    • Opening speech of German Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Gabriel (in DE). 
More news

The European Commission coordinates the efforts of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. For news and information on the activities and progress of the Strategy as curated by the various stakeholders, please visit the EUSBSR's dedicated website at


The EUSBSR is the first comprehensive EU strategy to target a ‘macro-region’.

The eight EU countries that make up the Baltic Sea Region (Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) face several common challenges which are reflected in the jointly-agreed Action Plan for the Strategy. It includes a number of policy areas/horizontal actions to save the sea, connect the region and increase prosperity – each accompanied by concrete flagships as well as by clearly identified targets and indicators. The Strategy helps to mobilise all relevant EU funding and policies and coordinate the actions of the European Union, EU countries, regions, pan-Baltic organisations, financing institutions and non-governmental bodies to promote a more balanced development of the Baltic Sea Region.

The Commission publishes regular reports on the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.

Achievements so far include:

  • Support for new projects, including cooperation between farmers to reduce eutrophication and improved planning for transport infrastructure;
  • Greater involvement of Russian partners in areas like environmental protection, water quality and innovation;
  • Improved cooperation between regions and other partners, including the private sector

Although the Strategy does not come with extra EU financing, a considerable amount of funding is already available to the region through EU regional policy, other EU programmes and financial instruments, and various international financial institutions. More information on funding may be found at the EUSBSR website.


To get in contact with the EUSBSR team in DG REGIO, please email

For more information on how to get in contact with EUSBSR stakeholders, please visit the EUSBSR website.