The Euroregion Baltic is a solid network in the Southern shores of the Baltic Sea, composed by 10 members: EIGHT regions of Denmark (Bornholm), Sweden (Blekinge, Kalmar, Kronoberg, Poland (Warmia-Masuria and Pomerania), Lithuania (Klaipeda) and Russia (Kaliningrad), the Association of Polish Communes of Euroregion Baltic and Skane Association of Local Authorities (the latter since 01.01.2019). These regions opted to form a Euroregion in 1998, setting the basis for long-lasting political cooperation whose main scope is to boost cross-border relations for economic, social and political development. ERB has been the first euroregion to formally include a Russian Partner, proving the possibility to handle sensible cross-border issues or challenges in a friendly and trustful atmosphere.
The Euroregion was given birth on 22nd February 1998 in Malbork (Poland) as Polish initiative, when local and regional authorities’ representatives gathered together from border areas of 6 countries: Poland (cities of Elbląg, Gdańsk, Olsztyn and Słupsk), Sweden (Blekinge region), Latvia (city and district of Liepaja), Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast), Denmark (Bornholm) and Lithuania (Klaipeda) to sign the founding agreement. This kind of cross-border interrelation became a trend in Poland in the 1990s, and it was defined as “a form of cooperation within cross-border service and employment areas traversed by all kind of flows” (Practical Guide to Trans-frontier Cooperation). The Madrid Convention defines this kind of cooperation as “any concerted action designed to reinforce and foster neighbourly relations between territorial communities or authorities within the jurisdiction of two or more Contracting Parties”. The Convention, in particular, provides the legal framework for bi- and multinational cross-border cooperation agreement. The term Euroregion derives from “Euroregio”, the first cross-border regional cooperation founded in 1958 between Germany (Gronau) and the Netherlands (Enschede). “Region” comes from the Latin rege that means “marking a territory”, nevertheless not governing. This is reflected by euroregions’ characteristics that have no political power and no legislative or governmental assumptions. However, their competencies derive from their constituting local and regional authorities (CoE, 2005). Founding documents for the birth of euroregions are the European Outline Convention on Trans-frontier Cooperation between Territorial Communities of Authorities, so called Madrid Convention (Madrid, 1980), which Poland has ratified in 1993, and the three ensuing protocols (Strasbourg 1995, Strasbourg 1998 and Utrecht 2009), notwithstanding Poland has not signed them. An important role in the establishment of Euroregions has been played by the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR).
The political cooperation enacted by the Euroregion Baltic has allowed for the establishment of the South Baltic CBC Programme as joint efforts promoted within the euroregion made it possible for the programme to be launched in 2007. As a result, the Euroregion Baltic could developed fast into project-based cross-border cooperation focussing on the South Baltic seashores. In fact, as lobbyist association, it brought into light the necessity of developing a programme that could allocate EU funds to exploit the full potential of the South Baltic regions and allowed the connection of Euroregion Baltic, Euroregion Pomerania, and the South Baltic Four Corners Cooperation.
Since its foundation, Euroregion Baltic understood the importance of making use of EU opportunities to ensure the implementation of projects that could help the objectives of economic growth in the region: industry, agriculture, transport, communication, spatial planning, environmental protection, cooperation in the fields of science, education, tourism, health care, etc. Therefore, in the year 2000, Euroregion Baltic undertook the management of the Small Projects Fund in the frame of the Phare programme: National Operation Programme 2000 – Poland’s Eastern Border. The Small Projects Fund had the scope of supporting the Integrated Strategy for the Eastern Border, facing the development challenges on both sides of the frontier. Activities provided support on the development of local democracy, planning and development research, economic growth, training for small and medium businesses, human resources. To face the challenges met by local governments, in particular, that hampered the submission of applications in the Small Project Fund, the Association of Polish Communes of Euroregion Baltic committed to construct platforms for networking and to provide training programmes and projects. Despite the difficulties, the SPF was of high importance in the development of the Euroregion’s eastern border, also for the fact that the eligible applicants were based in the Polish part of ERB.
Besides the experience as co-managing authority for the PHARE programme, Euroregion Baltic has always been promoter of capacity building thanks to the implementation of important projects like ERB 2002+ (revision of the statutes and common vision for the future); Seagull DevERB (draft of a Joint Development Programme for social, environmental and cultural sustainability in the region, territorial cohesion, economic growth and competitiveness. This was the first project submitted under INTERREG and allowed to strengthen the ERB multilevel and multi-actor partnerships, opening a dialogue with administrations, EU institutions, academia and NGOs in the Baltic Sea Region) and Seagull II (long-term development Strategy and annual Action Plans, trainings and seminars on the main EU policies and programmes). In the programming period 2007-2013, ERB followed the same path with the Capacity Building project, whose background relies on demand for funding cross-border cooperation among local public authorities, publicly-owned corporations, regional public authorities, universities and NGOs. The project consortium provided support in strengthening the capacity of the target groups to prepare, submit and implement good projects in the Interreg South Baltic Programme. Following this way, ERB is now the lead partner of UMBRELLA project, whose scope is to provide specific knowledge and skills in the implementation of goals and cross-border cooperation for local and regional entities in the South Baltic Region, an important tool to deliver better and sustainable policies at the local level.
Due to the fast development of ERB, an International Permanent Secretariat was established in 2004, working as a semi-independent entity for the Euroregion, but hosted by the Association of Polish Communes of Euroregion Baltic (Elbląg, Poland). The same year another vital decision for the financial sustainability of the organization was the introduction of the membership fees from the member states. The financial liquidity was essential to ensure that ERB will continue expanding its scope and activities. Moreover, ERB adopted and it’s been working with the following structure: 1) Presidency: rotates every year and is given to each of the member regions; 2) ERB Executive Board: formed by 9 members, from each of the 9 regions, plus a Youth Board.
ERB Youth Board was established in 2007 after a recommendation from ERB Board and the Approval from ERB council. The Youth Board is formed by 9 youth members, from each of the 9 regions participating in Euroregion Baltic and it manages its budget, being able to design and co-finance concrete projects. ERB is among the first Euroregions to fully include and involve youth representatives in their decision-making process.
Besides these, some working groups were established (Innovation/SME; Rural Development; Tourism Development; Transport Infrastructure; Social Dimension; Water Forum; Energy Forum; Kaliningrad environment; People-to-people cooperation). To date, just the Water Core Group is active.
Gradually, ERB has been taking concrete initiatives to boost macroregional cooperation in the broader area of the South Baltic Sea in order to face various challenges; ERB Water Core Group is such an initiative. The goal of the group is the realization of tangible measures and policies aiming to good ecological and chemical status in the ERB waters, as a base for sustainable development of the area. The ERB Water Core Group consists of members from all nine regions, in six different countries. The different members bring experience and information into the Water Core and it is essential that this knowledge is transferred back in the home regions.
The annual Action plan of Euroregion Baltic reflects the expectations and ambitions of ERB stakeholders through transnational and cross border cooperation, while at the same time allow a better reporting on the achievements of the last year. The ERB action plan 2019 was adopted on 13thFebruary 2019 at the beginning of the New Lithuanian presidency and is built around three main types of activities; 1) Lobbying activities in order to represent and promote common interests, 2) implementation of strategic initiatives and projects, and 3) exchange activities, to identify collaborative approach to common challenges.
ERB puts very high in the Agenda the achievement of the Sustainable development goals; ERB 2030 Agenda focuses on joint initiatives aiming at strengthening and promoting cooperation among the local and regional authorities of the Parties of the Agreement, as well as contributing to the sustainable development of the Baltic Sea Region. The organization points out that the localization and implementation of SDGs in BSR will be effective only if it is followed from a top-down as well as bottom-up governance approach and essential changes will be seen only if all the stakeholders will get involved in the implementation process. Nevertheless, SDGs is an excellent tool to frame strategic documents and a mechanism that can be used to develop practical projects that can make a very positive impact on the local level. Medium or small (political) organisations, such as ERB, can play a very important role towards the achievement of SDGs, by raising awareness among people and by bringing together different stakeholders to work with SDGs.
Also, the organization gives a special emphasis on youth participation, especially through CaSYPoT project. CaSYPoT(Capacity building for Youth Policy and Strategic Transnational Cooperation), is an ambitious project that was approved and granted by Interreg South Baltic in 2016 involving universities, politicians and the youth, enhancing youth participation in the decision-making process in selected municipalities around the Baltic sea. On one hand, the project is targeting youth for raising their voice, participating in city councils, deciding for their matters and benefiting from youth policies. On the other hand, the project seeks to promote transnational and cross-border cooperation among stakeholders of different countries in the Baltic Sea Region.
Recently, and in the framework of CaSYPot, ERB introduced the Youth Strategy for Euroregion Baltic 2020+. The strategy is based on the results and analysis of the research that has been conducted among young people in Sweden, Lithuania, Poland and Russia’s Kaliningrad. It seeks to tackle the major challenges that young people face nowadays in the area by providing the (conceptual) tools and recommendations to local stakeholders to design policies that will better include and empower the youth in the local, regional, national and translational level. As it is stressed out, a prerequisite for effective implementation of the proposed tools is a strong commitment and the presence of a person responsible for youth development in every city and municipality of Euroregion Baltic.
Looking into the future, the scope of ERB is to enhance political cooperation, bringing territorial interests at EU level. An example is the Position Paper on Cohesion Policy that presented a strong position for the continuation of the Interreg South Baltic, of which ERB has been one of the initiators. Moreover, ERB will seek to overhaul the youth participation in the area through various projects targeting the youth (CaSYPot, SIA4Y, YCGN) and to revitalize the ERB Youth Board in order to become more functional and effective. Green and Blue growth is among the main priorities of ERB in the area through a smart specialization (s3) tool-kit that will be used as a way for obtaining concrete results.
Transport accessibility and improvement of commuting in the SB is among the focus areas as well, especially through the successful implementation of the Interreg South Baltic- and EUSBSR’s flagship project INTERCONNECT. INTERCONNECT brings together municipalities and regions in the South Baltic Sea Region, seeking to reduce the usage of the car by citizens, by providing attractive public transport solutions and a more efficient, sustainable and convenient public transport service for regional, national and cross-border travellers.
Last, the organization will continue developing transnational and macroregional strategies that will result in concrete actions and will bring about a positive impact in the region. In the coming years, ERB aims to play an important role in regional forums by engaging in multi-stakeholder partnerships. To this end, its strategical partners are the Baltic Sea States Subregional Cooperation (BSSSC) and the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) in the field of youth cooperation; CPMR Baltic Sea Commission for the regional aspects of the SDG implementation; and the Council of the Baltic Sea States in the field of youth and sustainable development activities identified in Baltic 2030 Action Plan.
Association of Polish Communes Euroregion Baltic (2019), Euroregion Baltic Action Plan. (https://klaipedaregion.lt/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/ERB_action_plan.pdf)
- Andersen, S. Demkowicz-Dobrzański, Z.Olszewski (2018) Association of Polish Communes Euroregion Baltic, Euroregion Baltic: From Vision to Action Approach. p. 1-43
Euroregion Baltic webpage: http://www.eurobalt.org/
CPRM Baltic Sea Commission: https://cpmr-baltic.org/