Euroregion Baltic (ERB) was established in February 1998 and is a politically solid and well-anchored cooperation in the south-east of the Baltic Sea region, consisting of eight regions of Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. It was the first Euroregion to have formally included a partner from the Russian Federation. Since its early days ERB has been pursuing the goals of improving life conditions for its inhabitants, promoting bonds and contacts among local communities, and providing measures for a more sustainable development within the region. These then proved challenging tasks for the organisation which included EU member states, acceding countries, and the Kaliningrad Oblast of the Russian Federation.
Comprising the regions from both old and new EU Member States, and the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast, Euroregion Baltic constitutes the operational network of substantial and effective links across the borders, facilitating the promotion of political dialogue and reform, as well as sustainable, economic, social and environmental development, and thus strengthening local democracy and fostering people-to-people contacts between civil societies. The co-operation actively involves both local and regional authorities, private and public sectors, and NGOs.
Euroregion Baltic is widely recognised as a hub for cross-border relations, involving citizens, politicians, institutions, economic and social partners, educational and cultural institutions. This role is also recognised by national governments which bestowed ERB with the management function of the Phare Small Project Fund. Between 1999 and 2006 ERB managed two strands within the Fund: one for cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region and the other for cooperation with the Kaliningrad Region of the Russian Federation. More than 6 million EUR was granted to applicants from 10 countries who implemented 225 projects supporting small and medium enterprises and educational organisations, as well as facilitating youth exchanges, cultural and sports events, social inclusion, and organising conferences, seminars and trainings.
In 2009 ERB partners have been able to use the Norwegian Financial Mechanism facility called “Small Cross-Border and Inter-Regional Grant Fund” offered by the Association of Polish Communes Euroregion Baltic. Micro-projects implementing cross-border cooperation, aiming and improving the operations of self-governmental administration and at stimulating social initiatives, transferring knowledge from the more developed regions to the less developed ones, promoting regional and local development and ensuring the development of communication and development of systems for exchange of information have been possible to execute in the area of EEA and EFTA states, the other countries of the Baltic Sea Region, Kaliningrad Region of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belorussia. So far 81 projects have been implemented at the value of 1.8 MEUR of the co-financing.
Euroregion Baltic has also been implementing strategic initiatives involving all of its member partners and aiming at the sustainable development of the regions involved in the cooperation. Such major projects as Seagull devERB, Seagull II, DISKE, LED, MOMENT and YC3 have been implemented within the ERB framework and the organisation has become more structured and formalised. The two Seagull projects resulted in the adoption of the ERB Joint Development Programme with eight different thematic focus areas within which specific actions are recommended, and the Working Groups were set up to implement them.
DISKE project aims at intensifying cross-border relations between innovative SMEs and strengthening their economic potential and competitiveness through cooperation of science and technology parks, incubators, local authorities and academia. MOMENT project aims at improved management with water and local/regional preparedness for implementation of the Water Framework Directive and Baltic Sea Action Plan. The main idea is to test and develop a model for modern water management through Water Users Partnerships, i.e. for river basin based management with strong participation from local stakeholders. LED project investigates and invests in effective measures to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions caused by public lighting, as well as establishes a network on international, national, regional and local level in order to adapt the existing LED solutions to municipal needs and facilitate rapid conversion to LED. Read more here.
Over the years Euroregion Baltic has also become a very important political platform targeting its effective lobbying activities at various institutions within the European Union and on national and regional levels. As a result of these activities ERB adopted a series of resolutions and joint positions on such important issues as the EU cohesion policy, maritime policy, environmental protection, transport infrastructure etc. Moreover, Euroregion Baltic has also been very active during the preparation of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and another EU strategy Europe 2020, and is now actively involved in the process of implementation of both strategies.
One of the most spectacular results of the political aspect of the cooperation within Euroregion Baltic has been the establishment of the South Baltic CBC Programme. This completely new facility provided by the European Commission within the current EU financial perspective has offered more than 60 million EUR to support common initiatives of a wide range of actors in the south-eastern part of the Baltic Sea Region. Joint ERB lobbying efforts did not only make it possible for the programme to be launched in 2007 but also enabled basing the overwhelming majority of its priorities and measures on the ERB Joint Development Programme.
In 2010 Euroregion Baltic has undergone a strategic review of cooperation which was a direct result of major structural changes that have occurred at different levels in our societies, affecting the ERB cooperation in a number of ways. At the regional level the organisational structures, roles and responsibilities of the regions have changed due to regional reforms. This has occurred in Denmark, Poland, Russia and partly in Sweden and is currently taking place in Lithuania. Secondly, following the 2004 Enlargement of the European Union the thematic scope of the cooperation shifted significantly towards the EU policies. Other external aspects which have impacted the conditions for the ERB work include: establishment of the Interreg IV A South Baltic programme 2007-2013 (with its geography not fully aligned to correspond to the ERB area), adoption of the EU regulation on establishing European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), and last but not least, the newly approved EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region which is believed to exercise enormous impact on the cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region as a whole, and on Euroregion Baltic.
The overall objective of the review process has been to set the agenda for the ERB cooperation until 2020 with revised goals of the cooperation, as well as specific objectives and activities planned with the view of reaching the goals. The agenda compliments the vision of the ERB as an organisation with clearly defined roles and strengthened institutional and financial capacities. The goal of the ERB 2020 Agenda is to draw on the previous successful experiences and help the organisation move into a new phase of cooperation where it becomes a more dynamic tool to tackle common challenges observed by its members, and a strengthened political leverage in the cross-border cooperation of the Baltic Sea Region. To implement that goal, the Agenda set out three main focus areas, therefore allowing for a consolidated approach to the cooperation within the ERB. The first strategic focus area includes lobbying activities. It will allow the ERB to enhance its role as lobbying platform towards the European Union and take an active role in the shaping of EU policies, such as EU Cohesion Policy, EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, Europe 2020 Strategy, TEN-T Policy, Rural Development Policy, EU – Russia Cooperation and Eastern Partnership. The second focus area concerns strategic actions which upgrade the added value of the cooperation by enabling networking among variety of partners and providing complementarity with the regional development strategies. Within this focus area the ERB will coordinate the implementation of the Joint Development Programme, accomplishment of prioritised institutional activities and development of platforms supporting other forms of cooperation and actors. The third focus area includes exchange activities which, through collaborative approach to common challenges by local and regional politicians, decision-makers, experts and practitioners, will lead to deepened relations between the ERB member regions and strengthened cooperation.
EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region
The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, which was adopted by the European Council at the meeting in Brussels between 28-29th October 2009, aims at coordinating action by Member States, regions, the EU, pan-Baltic organisations, financing institutions and non-governmental bodies to promote a more balanced development of the Region. The four cornerstones of the Strategy are to make the Baltic Sea Region more:
1. Environmentally sustainable (e.g. reducing pollution in the sea);
2. Prosperous (e.g. promoting innovation in small and medium enterprises);
3. Accessible and attractive (e.g. better transport links); and
4. Safe and secure (e.g. improving accident response).
Euroregion Baltic has been an early supporter of establishing an EU macro-regional strategy that would facilitate the development of the Baltic Sea Region. In a series of seminars and workshops organised by Euroregion Baltic, relevant stakeholders were offered an opportunity to present their views on the Strategy and discuss its main elements. The first ERB conference on the Strategy took place in Brussels on 11th June 2008 and was attended by representatives of the European Parliament, Swedish Government, DG Regio, Committee of the Regions, Baltic Development Forum, ScanBalt, Helsinki Commission and Baltic Sea Chambers of Commerce Association. The participants had the opportunity to hear about the Strategy in more detail while it was still being developed and contribute to the process with their views. On 20th November 2008 the Euroregion Baltic Council adopted a position on the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region in which it welcomed and supported its main objectives and areas of activity. On 7th October 2009 in Brussels Euroregion Baltic organised another seminar on the Strategy. ERB also cooperated with other Baltic organisations and regions, BSSSC, CPMR, UBC, B7 and BDF to discuss some of the key questions regarding the implementation of the Strategy, such as the involvement of local and regional authorities, necessary financial resources and the need to include existing cross-border and inter-regional programmes in the implementation of the Strategy. As a result, a joint position of the six organisations was presented to the EU Commissioner on Regional Policy, Ms Danuta Hubner in December 2008.
ERB is committed to continuing its involvement in the implementation of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. ERB’s engagement will permeate all three focus areas of the ERB cooperation. As a political platform, ERB will act as a stakeholder of the Strategy, by monitoring its implementation and attending the Baltic Strategy annual fora. In its joint strategic undertakings, ERB may act as a participator in relevant flagship projects agreed in the Strategy Action Plan or as a contributor of its own project proposals, to be submitted to the European Commission for approval as the Strategy flagship projects. As an information broker, ERB will facilitate the exchange of information between the member regions and the European Union, between Euroregion Baltic and other Baltic organisations, as well as among the member regions themselves.
Euroregion Baltic is also actively involved in the development of one flagship project proposal and a new horizontal action to be implemented within the Strategy. The flagship project initiative is being developed by the ERB Youth Board under yet the unofficial title of “Informal learning and mobility for young people” and addresses the difficulties young people encounter while entering the labour market. The future project could be implemented under the priority area 12 of the Strategy Action Plan – To maintain and reinforce attractiveness of the Baltic Sea Region in particular through education, tourism and health. Based on the experience of the Moment project with the Regional Council in Kalmar County as its leader, and the work of the ERB Water Forum a new Horizontal Action of the Strategy has been proposed to the European Commission and is currently developed on multi-level governance, local and regional spatial planning and sustainable development.