Stockholm, 8 November 2016
[check against delivery]
Dear Prime Minister Löfven,
Dear Prime Minister Sipilä,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you all to this 7th Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.
Let me start by warmly thanking the government of Sweden, as well as the Nordic Council of Ministers and the City of Stockholm, for hosting this event, but also for their hospitality.
You know, the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is somehow special.
Adopted in 2009, this Strategy is a benchmark for the other macro-regional strategies that have emerged since then in the EU:
- The Danube region;
- The Adriatic-Ionian region; and
- The Alpine region.
The Baltic region is today an anchor of stability and prosperity.
As outlined in the Baltic Development Forum's "State of the Region Report", which was presented this morning, the Baltic Sea region is doing very well in many aspects of economic performance.
It is a frontrunner in innovation and competitiveness.
At the same time, this Region is also facing a broad range of challenges.
Political, economic, but also environmental challenges, such as climate change or the ecological status of the Baltic Sea.
Challenges requiring solutions that cannot be provided, either at national level or at EU level.
And this is where the Baltic Strategy is a powerful asset.
The Baltic Strategy is succeeding in tackling common challenges, such as innovation-driven growth, the environment, energy security or transport links.
And it is because it puts everybody around the same table, involving stakeholders at all levels: national, regional and local.
But this is not all.
At a time where some are putting into question our unwavering will to live and work together as a Union, you are at the forefront of new ways of European integration, showing the example to 500 million Europeans.
Of course, this can hardly be measured the same way we measure growth or exchanges, but we all know that investing time and energy in the Baltic Strategy is today simply priceless.
And this is why we need to keep this precious momentum.
This Strategy does not live from great declarations, but from daily work from practitioners on the ground; from the commitment and active participation of people like you.
I see many areas, where your engagement will be key to continue making even closer the banks of the Baltic Sea, but let me focus on just two of them.
Our first common challenge is to make sure that we all work in the same direction.
We are over 1,000 partners in this Forum, representing 8 EU Member States and the European institutions.
We have in mind lots of joint projects for support… … and lots of instruments that can provide this support.
So our challenge is to make the best of this support, mobilising all resources available.
Of course, cohesion policy is ready to help here.
But it is not just about money.
It is about finding ways to invest together.
I am thinking, for example, at a mechanism tabled by Sweden and Lithuania, which allows ongoing ERDF projects to apply for a so-called ‘transnational cooperation component’, where additional funding supports cooperation activities with international partners throughout the macro-region.
I am also thinking at the pilot network of ERDF managing authorities.
But support to macro-regional strategies should not be limited to cohesion policy.
Other possibilities for support are also to be exploited.
In this respect, I look very much forward to the forthcoming funding portal of the Baltic Strategy, which is developed by INTERACT and the Swedish Institute, and which will provide information on different funding possibilities in the context of the Strategy.
But your support and engagement is even more necessary in addressing a second major challenge: communicating effectively on the achievements of the Strategy.
Our Strategy is supporting plenty of successful projects.
These projects are changing the lives of their promoters and their communities, hence they constitute plenty of potential good news about Europe.
But these pieces of news need messengers and, frankly speaking, I don't see who could spread the word and tell such success stories better than you could.
In other words, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends: communicating the Strategy is a shared responsibility of everybody here: you and me, wherever we are; at EU, national, regional or local level.
You know, the future of this Strategy and that of the whole Union will be largely shaped by the way citizens perceive it.
Communicating on the achievements of the Strategy is therefore contributing to shaping its future.
And in the next two days, you will be discussing exactly this:
- How future challenges and opportunities in the Baltic Sea Region can be better addressed through a deepened Strategy?
- What needs to be changed, improved or retained?
- Should it be more anchored to cohesion policy?
- Should we earmark specific funding for it?
Please take this opportunity to address these and similar issues.
The future starts now, and it is now that it can be shaped.
By the end of this year, the Commission will present a progress report on the implementation of the four macro-regional strategies.
It will be an opportunity to take stock, assess the situation and table recommendations, which we hope will feed into the debate about the future of macro-regional strategies.
As I said, this Strategy is a benchmark for the three other macro-regional strategies, and even for European integration.
Let's do together the best of it and let's communicate it together.
The European Commission is keen to stand by you in this endeavour, for the benefit of the millions of citizens living around the Baltic, and for the European Union as a whole.
Thank you, I wish you a fruitful Forum.