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21st Sep 2018

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Baltic Sea strategy yields few results after one year

  • Eating mussles could help clean up the Baltic Sea (Photo: Valentina Pop)

One year into its existence, the EU's first 'macro-regional' policy around the Baltic Sea has few results to show, as it uses no fresh money and has no new institutions or legislation in place to implement it.

"The Baltic Sea strategy is an integrated part of our daily work, but it's also a challenge," said Peter Madsen, a regional politician from Denmark's Zealand region just south of Copenhagen.

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He was speaking on Wednesday (7 October) during 'Open Days', a one-week event bringing regional and local representatives from all over Europe together in Brussels.

"There is also the question if it's fair to expect results after just one year, with no extra institutions set up, no new legislation or extra money to implement the actions," he explained.

Still, the strategy has inspired other regions, such as the ones along the Danube river or the Adriatic sea, to call on the commission to come up with similar schemes.

"The European Commission would like to see macroregional policy as part of the new multi-annual budget from 2013 on," he added.

Cleaning up the Baltic Sea, which is one of the most polluted in Europe, is one of the main aims of this strategy, which one commission official present at the event described as rather "giving a focus" to existing organisations and projects, than re-inventing the wheel.

No fresh money could have been committed to the strategy, since it was adopted in the middle of the EU's seven-year budget, Anders Lindholm from the commission's regional policy directorate pointed out.

As for new institutions, they would have started "fights for headquarters" among member states, while new legislation would taken "a lot of time".

Mr Lindholm admitted that this situation gives rise to "limitations", but noted that more money is not always the solution.

"Basically, lack of funding is not a problem in the region, just that existing programmes have to focus more on the priorities of the Baltic Sea strategy."

But that is easier said than done because structural funding is long-term oriented and a lot of the programmes were already running when the strategy came into force.

Eastern Sweden's energy agency, for instance, is trying to develop a project aimed at de-polluting the sea by using mussel farms, who are "natural filters".

Nitrates and phosphates, mostly found in detergents and agricultural fertilizers, are the biggest environmental problem for the almost enclosed sea stretching between Denmark, Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

"If mussels farms were developed all over the Swedish coast, it would lead to an overall reduction of nitrates by 50 percent and of phospates by 25 percent," Kerstin Konitzer from the Swedish energy agency said.

"But so far we haven't quite found a way how to make use of the Baltic Sea strategy," she noted, adding that the project was not yet economically viable.

With environmental subsidies, however, this innovative solution may work. The commission representative encouraged Ms Konitzer to get in touch with the regional and national authorities in order to get included in an EU-funded programme.

Cultural and socio-economic differences in the countries around the Baltic Sea are also an issue, as one Polish representative pointed out.

"To our public, it is a bit of an 'extravaganza' for Polish politicians to talk about windmills and other high-tech projects in the Baltic Sea strategy, when the children in their communities still have no proper roads to go to school," Malgorzata Ludwiczek from Szecin pointed out.

Disparities around the sea could be bridged if more mobility and transport, particularly regional airlines, would become a reality, one Swedish representative said.

"Unlike less than 100 years ago, when bordering the sea meant you were connected and had access to different countries and cultures, now the sea is rather a barrier, as sea travel is too slow," Thord Andersson from the Oerebro region told this website.

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