The Baltic Sea Region comprises both the sea itself and the surrounding states. Organised Baltic co-operation also encompasses participation by Iceland, Norway and the EU. The overall objective of this form of co-operation is to promote political, economic and social development, and to furnish the Baltic Region with a reciprocal network that enables it to occupy a position of strength in other international contexts.
A number of players in the Baltic Sea Region already work together in a number of different ways on questions of importance for the region and its inhabitants. These players include the governments in the region, the parliaments, regional bodies, local authorities, commerce and NGOs.
Co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region is growing closer in every sphere: political, economic, cultural and social. People and companies are forging ever-closer links. Walls between countries have fallen and the remains of obsolete political systems have almost completely disappeared. It is more and more a matter of course that people move across borders for purposes of tourism, education or work. Naturally, there is still a long way to go before the Baltic Sea Region will be totally integrated, but the course has been mapped out and the work is in full swing. It is important that all the countries in the region are able to participate on equal terms.
There are several positive examples of words being turned into actions. The environmental partnership within the framework of the Northern Dimension runs a whole series of projects that are absolutely vital for the Baltic Sea's marine environment. This work is funded by, among others, the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB ). One outcome worth highlighting is the southern sewage plant in St Petersburg, which was completed in 2005.
Following initial teething troubles, the governments, acting within the framework of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM ), reached agreement on the groundbreaking Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) in 2007. The plan lays down far-reaching obligations and tangible strategies for, e.g. significantly reducing phosphorous and nitrogen emissions. The financial institutions active in the region, including NIB and the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO), have resources that can be used to implement HELCOM's action plan.
One major task facing the Baltic players is the need to develop specific projects with realistic budgets, which realise the over-arching objectives in the action plan by linking them to the financial institutions' resources.
These tangible actions have the potential to bring about major improvements in the Baltic Region's health and prosperity. The governments must, therefore, to live up to the stated obligations of HELCOM's action plan. The parliamentarians' task is to follow up on the plan, push for progress and demand political accountability. This can be achieved via the national parliaments, the Nordic Council and the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC).
Baltic Sea issues have been on the agenda of the Nordic Council for a long time. The Council served as a model when the Baltic parliaments founded the Baltic Assembly in 1991.
All of the national and regional parliaments in the Baltic Sea Region, as well as the European parliament, take part in the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), which was also founded in 1991. The Nordic Council occupies a strong position in the BSPC. As Russia, Norway and Iceland also take part, the BSPC provides a political platform for parliamentarians from countries both within and outside the EU to meet and form opinions, exert political pressure in relation to questions of regional importance, and organise a variety of joint political activities.