Russia’s one-year presidency in the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) will end on June 30. Amber Bridge asked Sergei Petrovich, deputy director of the 2nd European department of the Russian foreign ministry who chaired the CBSS Committee of Senior Officials during the presidency, and Jan Lundin, director general of the CBSS Secretariat.
Interview with Sergei Petrovich:
For a number of years Russia has been raising the issue of reforming the CBSS towards greater succession and better cohesion of activities of member-states. The changes are evident. Already under the German presidency the Pilot Financial Initiative was launched and the implementation of SEBA project began. During the Russian presidency the Project Support Facility was launched. How did the Russian presidency encourage further reform of the CBSS?
The reform of the CBSS began in 2008 at a meeting of the heads of government in Riga. It adopted a declaration on new guidelines of CBSS activities and approved five long-term priorities. The process continued in 2010 in Vilnius at a meeting of the heads of government which adopted a declaration on the vision of the Baltic Sea region up to 2020. One of the approved priorities was the necessity to target the Council of the Baltic Sea States towards project implementation. It is no secret that since the emergence of the institution in 1992 it was mostly a discussion club. It was a very good discussion platform which emerged in the period of geopolitical transformations. The creation of the CBSS aimed at promoting interaction between all member-states on the basis of common interests. By mid-2000s the Council has fulfilled its mission of a networking forum.
The only common project in the CBSS portfolio at the moment was EuroFaculty which from 1993 was implemented first in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia and from 2000 to 2007 in Kaliningrad on the basis of the Kant Baltic Federal University. Now it is being implemented in Pskov State University. During the Russian presidency we launched the second stage of the project in Pskov for three years. Now the EuroFaculty will educate not only bachelors but also masters, i.e., provide complete higher education. It is the only successful project which matured inside the CBSS at an early stage of its activities and implemented at the CBSS expense. All member-countries financed the project although contributions were voluntary and there was no mechanism of obligatory financing.
During the current Russian presidency succession is the key principle. A year is a brief period for a country to implement its priorities in full. Therefore, we work in a close contact with previous German presidency and upcoming Finnish presidency. The achievements include the mentioned Project Support Facility launched on March 1. So far the amount is modest - one million euro for three years from 2013 to 2015. However it is important that for the first time in its history the CBSS received its own fund and contributions will be obligatory for each member-country. The fund will co-finance projects in the Baltic Sea region on conditions that each project is initiated by at least three countries...
It is mostly symbolic money with which the Secretariat underlines its attitude to the project, isn't it?
Yes, of course. One of the financing guidelines is the Initiative of Modernization of the South-Eastern Baltic Area (SEBA) which was launched during the German presidency and which we continued. On June 7-8 Kaliningrad will host a large-scale conference on SEBA which will sum up the results of the first implementation stage which is the selection of projects. One of them is the creation of Vyshtenetskoe Lake recreation zone with a major nature-protection component on the border of the Russian Kaliningrad region with Poland and Lithuania. Prospects of including the Kaliningrad region into the water tourism network of the Baltic Sea are being discussed. The Baltic Artek project is successfully developing in Kaliningrad region. Another potential candidate for co-financing is the project to create a network Baltic Institute on the basis of the Kant Federal University in Kaliningrad which is to join efforts of law faculties of leading universities in the Baltic Sea region. Students from all countries of the Baltic Sea are expected to study there. The concept is currently being designed and summer courses are likely to be organized at the first stage. I do not rule out that at later stages the Baltic Institute format will become more sophisticated.
How does regional integration in the CBSS framework correlate with the EU Baltic Strategy according to the Russian opinion?
The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region was adopted in 2009 and renewed in 2012. We have numerously told out CBSS partners which are EU members that Russia as a non-EU country can be neither the object nor subject of the mentioned strategy. We consider it to be an internal EU document and Russia can by no means participate in its implementation. Moreover, we numerously told our colleagues it would be incorrect to use the provisions of the document, which may be good in certain aspects, in the whole region as the Baltic Sea is no inland sea of the European Union. There is also Russia without which no major project in the Baltic Sea region can be implemented and our EU partners agree with it. As for approaches, we have our own strategy for the development of the Northwestern Federal District in the period up to 2020. In late 2012 an implementation plan was adopted as the document has a framework character.
At the same time we never said the strategies are contradicting, they mostly complement each other. A corresponding dialogue has been underway with the European Union for three years already. There were three meetings in EU-Russia format which discussed potential joint projects in the Baltic Sea region. At present there is a list of 18 projects in which Russia and the EU see points of coincidence. Some of them are at the stage of implementation, some are being discussed, some are likely to be deleted from the project list as unfeasible.
As for the CBSS role in relations between Russia and the European Union in the Baltic Sea region, together with EU members in the CBSS we have reached an understanding to have platforms for equal dialogue. As I have stressed, we do not consider the EU strategy as a universal document for the development of the Baltic Sea region like our EU colleagues do not consider our strategy for the development of the Northwestern Federal District as an applicable document for them. At present we have a full understanding about the platforms. One of them is the Council of the Baltic Sea States which represents both EU members and non-EU countries. Besides CBSS, there is the Helcom (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission), the Northern Dimension program, as well as the so-called industry dialogues (transport, power-engineering, law enforcement, etc). In all the formats Russia and the European Union are equal parties to the dialogue.
Which place does the Nordic Council of Ministers occupy in the configuration?
It is an important institution for the north of the Baltic Sea region. Since 2009 there has been a mechanism of regular meetings between four intergovernmental regional councils - CBSS, Barents/Euro-Arctic Council, the Arctic Council, and the Nordic Council of Ministers. It has been long said that their activities often overlap, that they discuss one and the same issues, and participants are often the same. Therefore, it is necessary to coordinate their activities to provide synergy of efforts. The Russian side initiated interaction of the four councils. We suggested to hold the first meeting in 2009 in St. Petersburg. The second meeting was held in Oslo in 2012. The third will take place under the Finnish CBSS presidency in a Finnish city.
What would you like to wish to the next CBSS presidency?
We support succession in the activities of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. For several years the council has the troika mechanism comprising previous, current, and future chairs. We work to closely coordinate efforts with our partners and the next troika meeting will take place in Moscow in the second half of June at the end of the Russian presidency when we shall pass the relay baton to Finland. We hope the new priorities will be declared in late May at a regular meeting of CBSS Committee of Senior Officials and at a meeting of regional directors held on the sidelines. Finnish colleagues assured us they will abide by succession in activities. Estonian partners, whose presidency will come in 2014, said the same. The succession tradition gives hope that available CBSS plans, the main of which is the U-turn towards project activities aimed at end result, will be continued during Finnish presidency.
Which are identity interlacing trends (European, EU, Baltic, Norden) in the region on the background of current developments in the European Union which resulted in listing Poland as a northern country? How strong is the Baltic identity today?
It is a difficult question. Although globalization processes continue and many CBSS member-countries are EU members as well (at the time of CBSS creation only Germany and Denmark were EU members) Baltic identity does exist. The Baltic Sea brings people closer rather than distances them. The successful experience of CBSS which marked 20 years of existence last year is a proof of it. The institution is popular and deals with cooperation on the intergovernmental level in practically the whole range of intergovernmental interaction except for military-political issues: sustainable social and economic development, energy, transport, nuclear and radiation safety, fight against organized crime and trafficking, cultural cooperation, youth policy, information security, successful cooperation of border services, customs and tax agencies, rescue and civil defense services, prosecution agencies. The wide range confirms that the Baltic Sea united peoples and countries. But I believe Baltic identity is only evolving. People already feel their affiliation to certain Baltic family. The region is relatively well-off against both the European and global background. However living standards still differ much although the differences are no longer so crying as they were in the '90s. Our region is a region of peace and economic development. Therefore, the Baltic interaction model can be borrowed as an example by other regions of Europe.
Interview with Jan Lundin:
We are summing up preliminary results of the Russian presidency at the XI Forum of non-governmental organizations of the Baltic Sea region. Which share of your work NGOs comprise?
I believe a third of what we are doing is related to NGO. If we speak about human dimension, the two main guidelines of activities are the fight against trafficking and protection of children. The first is the task of numerous governmental agencies with which we cooperate, but there are also non-governmental organizations which care for trafficking victims. They want to launch a dialogue with state institutions, while we, the CBSS Secretariat, offer a platform for dialogue. We have a taskforce dealing with the protection of children. Its head Lars Lööf maintains broad contacts with non-governmental organizations of the region. Another major field for interaction between state institutions and NGOs are sustainable development and environment. We also offer a platform for the dialogue.
At present Russia has mounted efforts to increase the financial transparency of NGO activities. It is clear that legislation regulating NGO activities differs in various countries. The guest from Latvia said at the forum there are democratic and anti-democratic NGOs. It makes it necessary to define the basic characteristics of an NGO.
It is a difficult question. We support a flexible approach. If there are organizations ready to cooperate with us in the protection of children and environment and against human trafficking, we are glad to include them in our work. The CBSS Secretariat does not look for a hidden agenda of such organizations. It is not our business. Naturally, it is important to deal with a serious organization and we would investigate the results of its performance. However the source of financing the organization does not matter much for us. The fruitfulness of its activities is the main thing.
As for the CBSS political level, it also pays much attention to cooperation with NGOs. The recent CBSS summit proclaimed the Petersburg Initiative which mostly targets the work of the non-governmental sector. For example, Finland has an outstanding institution called Baltic Sea Action Group which works to protect the environment in the Baltic Sea region. The adoption of the Petersburg Initiative also means our enhanced interaction with BSAG. We plan to help the organization expand the geographic area of activities as today it cooperates mostly with Finnish actors. Another major environmental actor is the St. Petersburg Vodocanal. We perceive it also as a non-governmental and non-profit organization.
We expect proposals from non-governmental organizations on the implementation of the Petersburg Initiative to improve the environment in the Baltic Sea region. The effort demands developed Public-Private Partnership. The Petersburg Initiative is likely to produce new PPP forms. We expect a draft concept of the initiative by early October however it is clear already now that it will be a non-governmental organization.
Where will money come from?
There is no money yet, the idea should come first. I hope the concept will also answer this question. However the main task is to engage the non-governmental sector in active work to protect the Baltic Sea environment. BSAG launched the work, but mostly in Finland. With the help of such organizations as Vodocanal, Helcom, CBSS the work will spread to the whole region. We are waiting for concrete proposals.
BSAG has an interesting experience of engaging new actors in environmental protection. For example, they use the technology of commitments. Potential actors are offered to speak out on what they can do on the avenue in five years, for example. They have a special Commitment page on their website. Anyone can make a commitment.
It is an interesting social-psychological technology…
And it can produce interesting result. Some banks have already made voluntary commitments. But they are mostly Finnish actors. I hope geography will expand when the implementation of the Petersburg Initiative begins.
Now about SEBA initiative which is being implemented already. Is there any unexpected result? And which plans failed to be achieved?
SEBA unexpectedly promoted the emergence of the Pilot Financial Initiative to support PPP. It was due to the intention to cooperate with the Russian northwest. The first PFI conference was held in Kaliningrad. I believe it will find investment. The first investment was made in St. Petersburg into a waste recycling enterprise.
I believe without SEBA the CBSS will have no Project Support Facility today. It is a very good instrument specifically for the non-governmental sector.
SEBA conference on June 7-8 in Kaliningrad will discuss a whole set of projects for future activities. I am personally interested in the project to create the Vyshtinets-Krasnolesye natural park on the border junction between Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. On June 8 participants in the conference are scheduled to visit the park to see everything with their own eyes. Long-term work to develop tourism in the area is beginning. We succeeded to draw the attention of the Swedish Institute which will help develop entrepreneurship and tourism there.
What has failed? Some projects are being implemented slower than expected. An example is offered by the Baltic Law Institute where there is no progress but only hope for it as the project enjoys support of the Russian presidency and the Kant University in Kaliningrad.
Which place does the Russian CBSS presidency occupy among other recent presidencies?
During its presidency Russia considerably contributed to the development of regional cooperation. The contribution was not less than that of preceding German presidency. Both major states demonstrated their serious attitude to the CBSS.
Each presidency has its own specific. During the Russian presidency numerous important events took place: two ministerial meetings - of transport (December 5) and foreign ministers (June 5-6); the Baltic Sea environmental summit; since March 1 the CBSS runs its own project support fund: since last year the Pilot Financial Initiative has been implemented which is equally German and Russian. It all testifies to active Russian efforts in the CBSS framework.
Addressing a plenary session at the forum you said the absence of money is no reasonable excuse for the absence of cooperation. Are there first beneficiaries of the Project Support Facility?
No, so far. However I have the first bid for the creation of a CBSS summer university. For two-three weeks the best students from member-countries can discuss one important issue and attend lectures of the best professors from various countries. Good governance may become the first topic. Another issue would be discussed next time. It will be a mobile university. We shall begin in Kaliningrad. It is also a result of SEBA.
What do you expect from Finnish presidency? How can it differ from previous ones? What would you like to wish?
Finland is a modern country which likely enjoys the best education system in the world. In education and innovations Finland can make a major contribution to regional cooperation. It is premature to speak about concrete priorities. They are all in the hands of Helsinki. But I am a big optimist concerning everyday and technical aspects of the Finnish presidency. Finland has a very efficient administration and numerously demonstrated it during EU presidencies. As a Swede I am always pleased to work with Finland. It is easy for us to work together. Naturally, due to my knowledge of Russian I succeed to properly work with the Russians. It will be no worse with Finland, to say the least. There may be fewer events compared to the Russian presidency which is only natural as Finland is smaller and does not have powerful administrative resources like Russia and Germany have. I am sure that regardless of a smaller scope Finland will ensure high-quality presidency.