Baltic Sea Strategy Initiative: Ideas and Reality
As a result of the extensive 2004 enlargement or the European Union, the Baltic Sea has to all intents and purposes become an internal sea of the Union, surrounded by eight Member States.
The first joint initiative of the Members of the European Parliament in 2005 was the idea to launch the EU Baltic Sea Strategy which became EU’s first macroregional strategy. The initiative came under the leadership of a Baltic-European intergroup headed by the British Conservative MEP Christopher Beazley. One of the most committed advocates for the cause was the Finnish Conservative MEP Alex Stubb. The initiative group saw the planned strategy as an opportunity to make this region one of the most competitive and dynamically developing in Europe. This also served to draw attention to the need for a more decisive EU action in improving the precarious condition of the Baltic Sea ecosystem.
In November 2006, the EP plenary assembly adopted a resolution on the Baltic Sea Strategy. The MEPs declared the Baltic Sea the EU’s Mare Nostrum (internal sea), highlighted the particularly close relations in the region, and stressed the synergy that a closer cooperation model under the EU coordination might create for a faster development of the region. The role of the MEPs was not limited to adopting a resolution. This unique initiative now had to be “sold” to the European Commission. The Baltic-European intergroup turned out to be an efficient and broad-based association of MEPs in 2004–2009, wholeheartedly continuing its efforts to convince the Commission also after the 2009 EP elections. At the meeting of the association with the President of the Commission José Manuel Barroso in May 2007, we managed to convince him of the importance of the Baltic Sea Strategy. The Baltic Sea Strategy started to be prepared in the Commission under the coordination of the Directorate General for Regional Policy. Its Director Dirk Ahner turned out to be an excellent cooperation partner. The Directorate General started to compile a summary of the actions carried out so far and the outstanding needs in the Baltic Sea region, involving a dozen further Directorates General in the cooperation. There was a long wait for the approval of the eight Member States taking part in the Baltic Sea Strategy. Fortunately, the Swedish Prime Minister, the moderate Fredrik Reinfeldt, included the Baltic Sea Strategy among the priorities of the Swedish Presidency on the second half of 2009. At the European Council in December the same year, the first macroregional EU strategy achieved an official status.
Sadly, the fundamental idea of the new quality in cooperation and the synergy that the initiators had harboured turned out to be mostly utopian in light of everyday politics. Instead of the synergy that should have made the region the fastest developing one in the EU both in its developmental dynamics and the quality of cooperation, fresh ideas tended to wilt in the inertia of Member States centred models of the authorities. The Baltic Sea Strategy seemed to morph into a kind of a Christmas tree in the vision of officials from the concerned countries, with every participant trying to exploit it for extra support for their already existing activities. And yet the Baltic Sea Strategy in its present form has still generated a lot of positive. There is no denying the foreign policy impact of the Strategy – it became a model for other regions where the participating countries attempted to create new macroregional strategies, such as the Danube Transnational Programme.