The implementing actors of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region were gathered at the 4th Working Meeting for the Strategy, 10-11 April 2013 in Espoo, Finland, organised by INTERACT Point Turku and the European Commission, DG Regio. BDF was invited as Horisontal Action Leader for the Strategy area “HA Promo” (development of regional identity and branding), a role BDF shares with the City of Helsinki.
Among topics discussed in Espoo were:
- State of play after the review of the EU Strategy
- Communicating the EU Strategy
- Targets and indicators for the EU Strategy
- Seed money facilities in the Baltic Sea Region
It was concluded at the very useful meeting that the question of leadership and visibility of the EU strategy should be addressed as a priority. This also covers how to make the best use of existing structures on the ground (CBSS, Baltic Sea State Councils, Baltic Sea Summit), including the idea of a rotating Presidency for the Strategy. The role and involvement of National and European Parliaments should be considered, and Member States should ask sectorial councils to discuss how to include the macro-regional strategies in their work.
The responsible actors within the Strategy should work more closely with managing authorities of the Structural Fund programmes, in order to strengthen the overall coherence of the Strategy. The Swedish structure for implementation of the EU Strategy, was acknowledged as a good example of how to establish a consistent network as a link between the EU Strategy and the country’s needs.
When it comes to external communication, storytelling seminars (“emotional messages”) was recommended to help spreading information about the EU Strategy. The BDF initiative “newsWave”, www.newsvawe.eu, was mentioned in Espoo as one of the good examples of external communication, aiming at engaging citizens and civil society in topics related to the Baltic Sea Region.
“BDF supports the intention of strong commitments, high ambitions and clear responsibility for the Strategy, including a visible leadership”, says Torben Aaberg, Head of Public Affairs, who represented BDF in Espoo. “However, we should avoid bureaucratic structures around and within the Strategy. This region is built on informal co-operations and networks. Too many formalized governing structures will affect our flexible ways of working and communicating” he adds, recognising that leadership is crucial.
The Espoo meeting also addressed the fact that several seed money facilities now are available for projects within the Strategy: “Just one year ago everyone asked for seed money to support new project ideas and new ways of co-operating. Now four interesting funding facilities are available, a situation never seen before. Let’s make the most of these new opportunities” Torben Aaberg suggests.
EU Strategy to be discussed in Riga and Vilnius
The 2013 State of the Region Report points at the lack of private stakeholders as a weakness of the EU Strategy: “…the engagement of the private sector is still low; the argument for why Baltic Sea Region collaboration should be something companies in the Region should worry about has so far not been made successfully”. Engaging the business sector in the Strategy, especially in topics related to growth and competitiveness, is one of the priorities for BDF as a public-private platform for the regional stakeholders.
The same report addresses the question of leadership of the EU Strategy, suggesting “…the existing coordination mechanisms to be more visibly empowered. They need to be able to not only organize the activities directly focused on regional collaboration, but be able to achieve coordination across other policy areas as well”.
Also the 2013 Political State of the Region Report comments on the further institutionalization of the Strategy. The Commission’s proposals of a large number of steering committees and rotating presidencies may be indicating that “..the Commission wants to re-export the responsibility for the strategy to the region which would come too early”. One of the reasons being that ”…the regional organisations and bodies continuously do not seem sufficiently capable of taking full responsibility for the strategy”.
These and other questions related to the EU Strategy will be discussed at the 15th BDF Summit in Riga. BDF has taken the opportunity to invite the participants in the NCP meeting in Riga 28 May to the Summit Early Arrival Reception immediately after the meeting.
This year’s Annual Forum for the EU Strategy is organized 11-12 Nov 2013 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The NCP meeting concluded that next year’s Annual Forum will be located in Turku (Finland) on 3-4 June 2014. The Turku event will be co-organised with the 16th Baltic Development Summit and the Finnish CBSS Presidency’s Ministerial meeting.