EUSBSR Annual Forum 2020 online, photo by Jaska Poikonen
The main theme of the 11th Annual Forum, and the very first online forum, on 20 October 2020, was “Towards a Decade of Innovation and Sustainability". The Forum discussed how to cooperate effectively even during times such as a global pandemic. It discussed also emerging areas of cooperation and the future of the EUSBSR in the next decade.
Over 800 participants had registered to the event to discuss developments and challenges in the Baltic Sea Region.
The Forum was opened by Minna Arve, the Mayor of City of Turku and Grzegorz Poznański, Director General of the Council of the Baltic Sea States Secretariat.
Former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, gave an inspiring opening speech and encouraged to keep working together for the benefit of the region. “The sea has given a lot to us, it is now time to be reciprocal,” she reminded.
Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, sent her greetings with a video message. She drew attention to the importance of regional cooperation in reaching the EU sustainability and climate goals.
Cooperating for Innovation and Sustainability
The first plenary focused on cooperation and what it means to cooperate effectively even when the pandemic limits the ability to meet face-to-face.
An example of effective cooperation and success in protecting the Baltic Sea was given by Finnish Minister of the Environment and Climate, Krista Mikkonen, who reminded that 10% of the area is protected. Eating fish is safe again due to reduced toxic loads.
The Baltic Sea Region is also good at looking beyond its borders and working with its neighbours, for example in maritime spatial planning and smart specialization, pointed out Christos Economou, Acting Director of Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at European Commission.
Another example of the power of cooperation is that many oil spill accidents have been avoided in the Gulf of Finland, said Tiina Tuurnala, CEO of Finnish Shipowners' Association.
But instead of only talking about cooperation or making a sharp division between private and public sector, now it is time to act together, stated Jonas Faergeman, Chair of #ReGeneration2030 Steering Committee.
Working together, merging knowledge and skills
When talking about merging knowledge and skills, we need a comprehensive and inclusive approach. No generation or group should be left behind, and regional cooperation should not be only for the priviledged was the message of the second plenary.
Aline Mayr, Representative of the Baltic Sea Youth Platform delivered the Youth Declaration prepared during the Youth Camp that took place before the Forum. She made a powerful statement of the importance of including youth in places where decisions are made. This is particularly important during the Covid-19 pandemic when young people may be one of the groups that suffer most of its impacts.
Shaping the prosperous, competitive and sustainable future of the Baltic Sea Region
The third plenary invited us to zoom in to the future of the region and the EUSBSR. The panellists were asked to reflect on what will guide us for the next 10 years.
The new EUSBSR Action Plan is one element that will set the framework for upcoming activities in the Strategy. The Action Plan aims at increasing togetherness: with effective cooperation we can produce even better results. Finnish National Coordinator Helena Tuuri briefed the audience about the revision process. “In the revision of the EUSBSR Action Plan it was important to empower all stakeholders,” she said.
The revised EUSBSR Action Plan aims at increasing cooperation also with neighbouring countries. Igor Kapyrin, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that the cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region is highly valued.
Due to the exceptional times and changes, we are all in front of something new. The closing speech was given by Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto who stated that the EUSBSR objectives are highly importat to secure the future of the Baltic Sea Region. He wished good luck to all in their work for the benefit of the region.
Networking and workshops went online, too
In addition to the plenaries, the Annual Forum included a virtual Networking Village that offered the participants a chance to meet, network and learn about the work in the EUSBSR.
This year, the workshops took place before the EUSBSR Annual Forum. During September and October, 14 online workshops were organised by EUSBSR PA/HA Coordinators and stakeholders. The workshops captured exemplary the spirit of merging skills and knowledge as most of them were jointly organised.
Topics included, among others, bioeconomy, culture, circular economy, climate change, space observation and neighbourhood cooperation. The workshop discussions and findings provided important input to the plenaries.
Text: Let's Communicate project