Saturday

15th May 2021

Opinion

Baltic influence on future of EU

The countries adjoining the Baltic Sea face enormous challenges in several spheres, including the environment, the economy, security, mobility, education and research.

The Nordic countries and the other states in the Baltic Sea Region must shape their future together.

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Roughly a fifth of the population of the EU lives in the vicinity of the Baltic, so developments in this part of the continent will have a significant impact on the future of the Union as a whole.

Baltic leaders must be afforded the opportunity to provide input when major decisions are being taken. Of course, this can be done through the EU, but the interests of the Baltic Sea Region also need to be looked after in a wider international context, a debate made topical by the proposal from the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, for Nordic–Baltic representation at the G20.

History teaches us that the Baltic Sea Region faces two possible futures – either faltering statehood and simmering conflict, or friendship, mutual trade and the free exchange of knowledge and information.

The nations around the Baltic Sea, as well as Iceland and, to a certain extent, Russia, were hit hard by the economic crisis and are struggling to overcome major problems, whereas the other Nordic countries appear well placed to recover relatively quickly.

Ultimately, the way in which crises are handled is determined at national level, i.e. states are responsible for their own future. However, there are strong indications that we all need to be better prepared and develop more effective national structures in order to improve our ability to cope with future global crises.

We need to understand how the labour and financial markets, fluctuating exchange rates, fiscal-policy regulations and automatic stabilisers work, as well as when and how to deploy stimulus packages.

Global crises have a greater impact on weaker and less well-prepared countries. Better and closer co-operation between formal and informal structures is required in order to achieve long-term benefits in the Region.

We need to be better at exchanging knowledge and learning from each other in order to implement new strategies more efficiently. Economic progress requires joint investment in research and education, innovation, creativity and enterprise. Below are just some examples of areas where multilateral partnerships need to be strengthened in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The ninth-largest economy in the world

We need to be better equipped for global crises. The Baltic Sea Region is closely integrated into the global economy, and its ability to cope with economic crises depends upon institutions that work properly.

A new global mechanism is required if such a crisis is to be avoided in the future. It is essential that the Baltic Sea Region makes its voice heard in the international forums where such issues are decided.

Together, the Nordic and Baltic states comprise the ninth-largest economy in the world. Given the events of recent years, we must also ask how the Region, acting at national level, might have been able to prevent economic overheating.

Closer regional co-operation and exchanges of information about the monitoring of financial markets and the economy might have helped to limit the impact of the crisis.

What is needed is a strong political platform for devising efficient and legitimate international solutions. The Nordic and Baltic countries must draw on all their years of partnership and act as one to generate stable, sustainable growth in the Region.

Underlying competitiveness must be strengthened and innovation capacity developed.

Closer Nordic-Baltic collaboration may present opportunities that can be developed on the back of the Nordic Prime Ministers' globalisation initiative. Although much of this work has to be done at national level, much is still to be gained from partnerships. One highly topical example of a programme that seeks to address global challenges is the Top-Level Research Initiative, the largest Nordic research and innovation investment ever.

We also need to improve market integration.

Better conditions for strengthening competitiveness must be in place if we are to attract investment from global companies and encourage them to set up operations in the Region. It is of the utmost importance that we work together to support free trade between open economies and reject protectionism. We must promote greater freedom of movement and remove existing obstacles to the cross-border mobility of goods, services, manpower, skills and enterprise.

The Baltic Strategy

The Baltic Strategy, which is expected to be adopted by the European Council at its October meeting, may very well become a model for several regions within the EU. This is an important strategy for the development of the Region within the framework of European co-operation, and the Nordic input has been substantial.

The Nordic EU member states have assumed a great deal of the responsibility for the process. As an active partner in the strategy's action plan, the Nordic Council of Ministers will contribute to its implementation.

The strategy will have a major influence on welfare, accessibility, and social and national security across the whole Baltic Sea Region. Political leadership has a crucial role to play in the creation of a sustainable Baltic Sea Region, and that leadership must belong to the countries around the sea – both those that have joined the EU and those that remain outside of the Union and its Baltic strategy.

In the longer term, this is about the future of the whole Baltic Sea Region, and will have a considerable impact both on our own societies and on most of the EU member countries.

We hope, therefore, for ongoing and continually developing political support at the highest level in order to meet the global challenges that all of us face.

Halldór Ásgrímsson is Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Uffe Ellemann-Jensen chairs the Baltic Development Forum and is a former foreign minister of Denmark.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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