Emily Wise, plenary moderator at the 16th Baltic Development Forum Summit and 5th Annual Forum of the EUSBSR, shares some of the key messages coming out of the six plenary sessions:
This year’s State of the Region Report highlighted evidence and implications of a “new normal”
The main conclusion from this year’s State of the Region Report is that we are transitioning into a “new normal” characterized by lower growth rates in the future. Although the region continues to display strong macroeconomic fundamentals, decreasing trends in export market shares and inward investment signal opportunities for action. There is a need for continued investments in knowledge-based assets and competitive infrastructure, as well as developing more distinct areas of competitive advantage.
A few areas where the BSR currently stands out and could continue to develop include: investments in smart, energy-efficient infrastructure; development of new digital services; mobilization of the youth and through dynamic employment models; and enhancing regional cooperation and attracting investment through macro-regional value chains or innovation platforms.
In the BSR, we are encouraged to consider social and environmental sustainability as a core elements of the “new normal”
In various plenary and parallel working sessions, we were reminded of the importance of mobilizing and combining perspectives across various groups (age, culture, gender), as well as combining our thinking about investments in environmental friendliness and economic growth (“greening the economy”, Minister Niinistö). Marek Szponk (a student of the Baltic University Programme) expressed his desire for greater engagement of youth in the continued development of the BSR, more inter-disciplinary activities, and obligatory courses on environmental sustainability in all educational programmes.
Governmental and business leaders lifted the potential of new services and digital-led growth
Prime Ministers Katainen and Roivas encouraged other BSR countries to follow their lead and “go digital” – stating their desire for developing more cross-border services in the region. Business leaders highlighted that the Baltic Sea Region is one of the most attractive regions of the world in this field – with a strong eco-system, and with talent that has both technological depth and a creative breadth (aka “technology, heart and soul”).
We are making progress in fulfilling the “10 commandments of the BSR Strategy”, yet Member States must take on more of a driving role
Commissioner Hahn stressed that “the strength of the strategy needs to come from the region” – with Member States demonstrating their commitment by allocating key staff and using (the new) structural funds to make progress on stated priorities. We are encouraged to narrow our focus, establish clear goals for priority areas, and allocate human and financial resources to address these priorities.