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From a barrier of water to a Sea of Peace

Anförande vid Östersjöstaterns råd (CBSS) utrikesministermöte i Malmö, Sverige

Since the end of the Cold War, the Baltic Sea has been transformed from a barrier of water, which divided nations and people, to a Sea of Peace. A peace, no longer upheld by armies and navies, but rather by the free flow of people, ideas, goods and capital.

The Baltic Sea has, during these last fifteen years, regained its role as an important trading route. Asin the days of the Vikings and the 400 prosperous years of the Hanseatic era, our region is experiencing a boom of commercial activities. So impressive that Time Magazine writes about the "Sea of Plenty" and a "economic powerhouse of the 21st century".

With the conclusion of the fifth enlargement, 12 nations with 100 million citizens, from the Gulf of Finland in the North down towards the Bosporus in the South, have been brought into the Union, creating a new belt of peace and prosperity in an area that history has otherwise reserved for economic stagnation, instability and rivalry.

What our common past primarily has shown us, is that the division of our region along a Western - Eastern axis, which prevailed during most of the twentieth century, was nothing but a historical parenthesis - a dark anomaly.

We are now back to a position where we can realize the full potential inherent in our region.

The growth figures (2006), particularly on the eastern shores, are impressive: 7,3% in Lithuania, over 11% in Latvia and Estonia and around 6,5% in Russia. Eight of nine countries bordering the Baltic have a faster growth than the EU average.

The yearly growth of foreign trade in the Baltic states and Poland amounts to 20%.

But also countries like Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland are doing well compared to the EU average.

Our region is in the forefront when it comes to cutting edge ethnology such as communication systems, with companies like Ericsson, Nokia and Siemens. But also in biotechnology, not least in this part of Scandinavia, stretching from the University of Lund, via Malmö, towards Copenhagen -the so called biotech valley.

The volumes of goods, commodities and raw materials transported on ships on the Baltic Sea are increasing with a spectacular pace. At any point in time over 2000 ships are cruising on the Baltic Sea. Every year 52.000 ships are passing the Island of Gotland, and 70 000 the Danish Island of Bornholm.

In 1987 the volumes of crude oil transported on the Baltic Sea amounted to about17 million tons. In 2004 that figure had increased to 115 million tons. In 2010 the volumes are expected to have surpassed 200 million tons.

In Hamburg the total amount of cargo has increased with 40 % every year the last three years.

Fifteen years ago there was only one daily flight between Stockholm and Tallinn. Today there are six flights every day. Between Helsinki and Tallinn there are 30-35 daily departures on sea and 9 helicopter tours in each direction.

In Riga harbor the number of ships has increased from1000 a year in the early nineties to today's 3600 a year.

And since we are in Malmö, a part of the Öresund's region, I might add some figures that shows the dynamism in this part of the Baltics. The number of cars crossing the bridge has increased from 1,7 million in the year 2000 to 5,7 millions last year. This year we can already see an 20 percent growth.

And the figures for travelers by train are just as impressive. In the year 2000 the trains transported 2,4 million people crossing the bridge. Today's number is 7,5 million (2006) and a growth this year with 25 percent.

These figures well reflect the dynamism and optimism which characterize our common vicinity.

It is now a fact that the Baltic sea state region has evolved into one of the most dynamic areas on our continent - we are "the top of Europe" - a region with an economic and technological structure and profile which gives us a good position to compete successfully in the globalized world economy.

To make sure that this development continues and accelerate further is one of our most important responsibilities.

But it is also our responsibility to find solutions to those problems which still threaten our societies and their people.

According to the UN, the Baltic Sea is one of the ten most sensitive maritime environments in the world. 25% of its bottom is dead, and up to 80% is dying.

Half of all fish species are under the so called "critical biological level" which means that their existence are under severe threat.

Between 300-400 cubic meters of industrial waste and sewage from S:t Petersburg every day goes unfiltered directly into the Gulf of Finland.

Eutrofication continues to be a severe problem.

This situation is not sustainable and must be reversed.

And it is up to us to bring about change. As it is up to us to combat trafficking in human beings, to fight transnational organized crime and to further increase security of oil shipments in the Baltic Sea.

The last point is not the least important. Finland's Technical Research Centre (VTT) recently noted that the risk of oil spills in the Gulf of Finland had risen markedly and would double by 2015.

The Council of the Baltic States has been a valuable platform from which we have been promoting regional development and combating common threats.

During the years since its creation in 1992 the CBSS has contributed to closing the gap, which after the fall of the Berlin wall, existed between the west and the east.

And on a more concrete level, it has made valuable contributions to the fight against trafficking and organized crime.

But we must admit that our region - its opportunities and challenges - has fundamentally changed since the foundation of the CBSS. We are compared to 1992 living in a totally different, political and economic environment.

At that time the Baltic states still had ten thousand Russian soldiers on their territories. Their main priority was, as in the case of Poland, to become members of the Euro Atlantic institutions.

Today all member states of the CBSS except Russia are also members of the European Union or the EES, the European Union has been enlarged three times and we are living in the midst of a globalization which is accelerating with an unprecedented speed.

Also within the CBSS the cooperation has changed character. It is more concrete and diversified. The governments are no longer in the driving seat. It is instead much more business, local authorities, universities and independent organizations that cooperate and this is most encouraging.

These facts must be reflected in the way in which we design the regional cooperation of today as well as of the future - and this also applies to the CBSS.

This is why Sweden has promoted the idea of a strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, a strategy that would be fully compatible with the EU's Northern Dimension - which would help to promote our region as a priority area for the EuropeanUnion. A strategy which would facilitate for the whole of this region to get access to Community funds which could be directed to sectors such as infrastructure, energy, environment, education and research. I note with satisfaction that the Commission is positively considering this idea.

I say the whole region, because it is of utmost importance that the strategy will need to take into consideration both the region's EES countries which form the part of the internal market, and also Russia in connection with the Northern Dimension.

We are part of a "Europe of regions". And it is my firm believe that the Baltic Sea region can develop into a model for other parts of Europe by proving that high growth levels and being in the forefront of globalization are compatible with the highest environmental standards and sustainable development.

I think the CBSS can help pave the way for increased regional integration and be instrumental in making the Baltic Sea region one of the most competitive in the world when it comes to economic growth.

It is my strong conviction that the transformation of the CBSS into a much more operational body closely tied to a European Strategy for the Baltic Sea region, would entail a needed revitalization and strengthening of an organization which we need, but which is at the currently not fully in tune with the times.

My vision is that we must promote the development of the Baltic Sea region and preserve its position at the "top of Europe", both when it comes to identifying relevant projects as well as to help implementing these. This would fulfill the reforms of the CBSS initiated by Sweden this last year.

We need too work towards achieving an even closer integration in the Baltic Sea region and promote economically and socially prosperous societies based on market economy, freedom and democracy. Societies that share the same objectives, whether they concern protecting our environment or fighting organized crime and trafficking in human beings are the best guarantees for stability and security. It also gives our economies new dynamism and serves the purpose of maintaining our common region as one of Europe's strongest growth areas.

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