Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)
Address by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at the 15th Ministerial Session of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Helsinger, Denmark, June 4, 2009
Honorable Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Per Stig Moeller for the hospitality.
It fell to Denmark as the president of the Council of the Baltic Sea States the crucial task of heading up the start of the implementation of the Riga Reform Declaration. The fundamental statutory documents of the CBSS have been renewed that as now worded are designed to give collaboration within the framework of our organization a more pragmatic and purposeful character. In development of the decisions of last year's CBSS summit we have to adopt a declaration today formulating the tasks in deepening the structural reform of the Council and giving an extensive picture of the current and future undertakings in all five priority areas of Baltic cooperation.
The work done by the Danish presidency undoubtedly merits a positive evaluation. At the same time the situation in the world economy, also affecting the Baltic region, dictates the need for a more energetic reform pace. Also, the requirement in innovative ideas which would increase the benefits of the CBSS activity, and speed up its adaptation to the new realities is more acute. Regrettably, we sometimes hear claims that the CBSS is incapable of ensuring full-fledged international cooperation in the region. We discern in this attempts to subordinate the Council's activities to other multilateral formats of collaboration.
I am deeply convinced that the Council of the Baltic Sea States remains an effective and self-sufficient mechanism for constructive cooperation in the region with high added value. It's another matter, of which we have been speaking for a long time now, that an optimal model for combining efforts of all regional organizations operating in Northern Europe crucially needs to be agreed upon as soon as possible. The requirement in the rational distribution of labor based on consideration for the comparative advantages of each of them and the removal of parallelism and duplication causes no doubt. It is obvious that a serious dialogue is also ahead on how the future Baltic Strategy of the European Union, if adopted, can be adapted to the vital needs of the CBSS.
For a substantive discussion of all these themes I suggest that we think of holding a meeting this year at the level of deputy ministers from the countries presidents in the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Arctic Council, as well as the Northern Dimension. We would be ready to organize that meeting as the BEAC presiding country.
The process of the renewal of the CBSS, operating in one of Europe's most dynamic regions, attracts attention from the outside world. The applications of Spain and Romania for observer status in the CBSS, and the striving of France and Belarus to become full-fledged members of this organization serve as a confirmation of this. It is important that in considering these applications we are now guided by the criteria of the readiness and ability of applicant countries to contribute specific, including resource, input into regional cooperation.
The questions of regional economic cooperation merit special attention. We are for the further elaboration of the proposals for expert groups in the maritime economy sphere (Germany) and in the exchange of technologies (Lithuania), for a unified labor market (Finland), for Baltic economic development (Russia) and for the organization of small family enterprises (Poland). The sphere of innovative development is also highly promising in terms of Baltic potential. To coordinate project activities in this priority field a working mechanism could be set up under the auspices of the Committee of Senior Officials. We presume that the Lithuanian presidency will impart the necessary impulse to the work of experts in this and other sectors.
The condition of the natural environment in the Baltic region, primarily the Baltic Sea itself, is an absolute Russian priority. We regard the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) as the chief vehicle for interstate ecological cooperation in the region. Currently presiding over HELCOM, we see our role in securing broader enlistment of the participating countries in the fulfillment of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), adopted in 2007 at the ministerial session in Krakow. An important stage in raising effectiveness in HELCOM activities is to be the ministerial meeting in Moscow next May, where national plans will be presented for improving the sanitary conditions in the Baltic region as part of the fulfillment of the Krakow Plan.
Ecology is becoming increasingly intertwined with energy – another extensive space of cooperation, whose significance extends beyond the region. These two areas of interaction are today embodied in the project for the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in the interests of ensuring the energy security of Europe. It is with regard for the Baltic Sea's particular vulnerability that the Nord Stream management company has been guided when choosing the pipeline route by the criteria of not only economic expediency, but of the world's strictest ecological requirements as well. In this connection we are frankly surprised at the artificial claims being put forward against Nord Stream by some member countries of the European Union, although this project is included by the European Commission among the priority ones. Furthermore, the same countries prefer not to notice the environmental aspects of the other projects needed solely for them of laying underwater communications in the Baltic Sea. It is necessary to give up the practice of double ecological standards and to renounce the use of ecology for political purposes.
Speaking of sustainable regional development, we should not forget about such important components thereof as culture and education. Regional projects in these areas of cooperation facilitate development of the creative potential of people and the mutual enrichment of national cultures. In the portfolio of our proposals is the Amber Route project. Carrying it out would aid the spread of the now popular and economically advantageous industry of cultural tourism in the region. Projects aimed at the study of the underwater marine heritage and coastal culture also appear to be topical.
We welcome the consensus in the CBSS in support of educational projects like the EuroFaculty, which is now by joint efforts being realized in Pskov on the basis of co-financing by all participating countries. EuroFaculty helps not only to modernize the methods of teaching, but also to stimulate the development of interuniversity network cooperation in the region.
One of the five major priorities of the CBSS is civil security and the human dimension. We must strive to create by joint efforts the maximally comfortable conditions for development of the human personality and to remove the barriers hindering free communication of people and successful economic integration in the region.
The future Lithuanian presidency has announced cross-border cooperation to be one of its priorities. We welcome this mindset and expect the CBSS to promote the further simplification of the visa regime, primarily for border area inhabitants. The expansion of freedom of movement of people in the Baltic region and complete visa abolition in the future (hopefully not distant) would meet humanitarian and cultural requirements, substantially broaden cooperation opportunities in the framework of such Euroregions as "Baltic" and "Saule" and have a noticeable economic effect.
It is no secret that in the CBSS area there sill linger the situation of mass noncitizenship that has no analogues in Europe, and a number of other problems linked to the position of national minorities. All these issues must remain in the sphere of our attention in accordance with the recommendations of the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe, of which we are all members.
Separately I would like to dwell on the theme of the inculcation of tolerance. In putting forward the initiative for the creation of the appropriate expert group, we were guided by the topicality of the task of countering the manifestations of xenophobia, interethnic tension and intolerance. We are convinced that a substantive, non-politicized dialogue of experts from the CBSS countries would be useful for the applied study of the best practices in the region in this sphere. We welcome the decision in the Draft Outcome Declaration of our meeting to continue discussions in the CBSS on this team and hope for their productiveness.
In conclusion allow me to once again thank the Danish presidency for the good work and traditional hospitality and wish success in this responsible field to the Lithuanian colleagues, who are to continue efforts for improving further the Baltic cooperation mechanism currently under renewal.
June 4, 2009