The conference on “The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Building Partnership for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Competitiveness” held on 3 June 2009 in Radisson SAS Hotel in Warsaw was organised jointly by demosEUROPA – Centre for European Strategy, Swedish Embassy in Warsaw, the Office of the Committee for European Integration, the Scandinavian-Polish Chamber of Commerce and the Baltic Development Forum with the support of general sponsors such as Magnusson, Vattenfall and Volvo and the media coverage provided by Puls Biznesu, TOK FM Radio and a regional daily Dziennik Bałtycki.
The introduction to the discussion was provided by Minister Piotr Serafin, Undersecretary of State in the Office of the Committee for European Integration, who stated, that the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region embraced its true meaning after 1st of May 2004 when eight out of nine countries at the Baltic shore became members of the European Union. The Minister added that the integration in the Baltic Sea Region should be deepened by using the instruments the Community has at its disposal. He pointed out that the value of the project is embraced in the area it covers, namely from Tatra Mountains to Northern Sweden.
The first opening speech was provided by Mr. Per Westerberg, the Speaker of Riksdag, who at the very beginning underlined, that the integration supported by political cooperation contributes to higher trade volumes, and the creation of new workplaces. That is the reason for the countries around the Baltic Sea to tighten the cooperation in as many areas as possible. The key to success is a greater transparency, openness and investments in information society. The Speaker underlined, that the Swedish presidency in the European Union will do its best to implement the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.
The following speech delivered by Minister Michał Boni, The Member of the Council of Ministers and the Chief of the Team of Strategic Advisers to the Prime Minister, was devoted to the Poland’s stance on the Baltic Sea Strategy. The Minister referred to several factors that have a special meaning for the Baltic Sea region, which can either become the driving force for its growth, or a brake in some matters: (1) the states in the region are of different size, (2) there are no large metropolises, (3) all states possess large urbanized areas. He underlined that the intellectual potential of the countries involved in the initiative would be key for the development of the region. Hence, the relations between universities should be one of the main priorities of the strategy. The last speaker, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, CEO of Pekao SA, closed the first part of the event with an insightful overview of the development of particular areas of the economy in Central and Eastern Europe during the last 20 years. He underlined, that the development of the region took place mainly thanks to foreign direct investments.
The first Hot Chair Session on “The pursuit of growth through innovation. Delivering on the fifth Community freedom” with the first special guest – Mikael Lindholm, Partner in Lindholm & Co – entitled was chaired by Hans Brask, the Director of the Baltic Development Forum. Mr. Lindholm stated that Europe must find a way to mark its presence on the market for innovation, which is not an easy task, because it is facing the competition from both the United States and China. Asked about the Nordic social model, he underlined that despite the fact that it assures short working hours, high salaries and long holidays, it also guarantees high creativity of citizens. It is not possible to easily copy it to all the states in the basin of the Baltic Sea. Nevertheless, implementation of some of its elements should be considered.
The second special guest – Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the former Foreign Minister of Denmark and Chairman of the Baltic Development forum, was interviewed by Adam Jasser, member of the board and Director for Programmes in demosEUROPA – The Centre for European Strategy. The session was devoted to the priorities of the European Union Strategy for Baltic Sea Region. The Minister mentioned that many states in the region are young democracies, more sensitive to the repercussions of the current crisis. Furthermore, a majority of countries in the region are not members of the euro zone (some for inexplicable reasons), what results in a number of political and economical consequences.
The first panel discussion on “Facing the short-term challenges. Eliminating barriers to trade and competitiveness?” was chaired by Dag Hartelius, the Ambassador of Sweden in Warsaw. The panel included the following speakers: Anders Lindholm, from the European Commission, DG Regio and Mec. Andrzej Tokaj, Managing Partner at Magnusson Law Firm. In their inputs both underlined, that the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region cannot create hindrances for the EU member states that are unable to participate in the project due to their geographical location. They elaborated on the diversity of the states in the region that can be divided into three groups: (1) Nordic states and northern Germany, (2) the Baltic States and Poland and (3) Russia. As for the biggest weakness of the region they pointed out the lack of regional and business-friendly administration, incomplete transport infrastructure and an ineffective legal system in some of the countries (mostly in the second group).
Second panel discussion on “Laying the foundations for long-term growth. Exploiting the macro region’s full business potential through innovation, knowledge and skills”, was chaired by Peter Tærø Nielsen, the Chairman of Scandinavian-Polish Chamber of Commerce. The speakers, Włodzimierz Kiciński, CEO of Nordea Bank Polska and Sven Gunnar Edlund, Director of the Innovative Division at VINNOVA said that the future of the Baltic Sea Region lies in cross-border initiatives. The EU new member states in the region (especially Poland) are becoming more competitive and are capable of maintaining a sustainable growth trend. This in turn, supported with an adequate assistance of the old EU member states can result in a positive development dynamics of an entire region.
The third panel discussion “Funding and Finance; Finding optimal sources and channels to harness business opportunities within the Baltic Sea Region” was chaired by Paweł Świeboda, President of demosEUROPA – Centre for European Strategy and included the following speakers: Johnny Åkerholm, President & CEO of the Nordic Investment Bank, Agnieszka Jankowska – Director of Managing Department for Competitiveness and Innovation Programmes in the Ministry of Regional Development and Mateusz Gaczyński – the Director of the Department for the Enterprise Support in PARP (Polish Agency for Enterprise Development). The speakers underlined the need for cooperation among the states in the Baltic Sea Region in such areas as the environment, energy, innovation or logistics. The panel members proposed an elaboration of a finance road map for the entrepreneurs from the countries of the Baltic Sea Basin that are not fully aware of the possibilities of access to the capital for regional initiatives. Such a road map could become an integrated part of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.