Over 180 delegates from the Baltic Sea region’s parliaments and interregional organisations, guests and experts were welcomed by Jorodd Asphjell, President of the BSPC, and Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen, President of the Storting, in the Plenary Hall of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, on Monday morning on 26 August.
In her opening address, President Trøen stressed that “If we are to solve common, international challenges, we will need more and closer international cooperation, not less. Climate change, migration and security issues know no borders. Regional stability and friendly relations between our peoples are essential for the wellbeing of our citizens.”
She voiced her contentment over the BSPC conference being hosted by Norway for the third time and reminded the audience that the topic discussed during the 2004 BSPC conference had been “Sustainable development – shared concerns and responsibilities in the Baltic Sea Region”. 15 years later, that was still a burning issue, with “clean oceans” one of the main topics of the present conference.
President Trøen emphasised that Norway remained strongly committed to the Paris Agreement and the UN sustainable goals with green solutions within shipping and the maritime industry as an important contribution to both of them. In the government’s ocean strategy, the acknowledgement of crossover technology and expertise between the ocean industries as well as exploring new potential played an important role. The speaker noted that Norway also had the ambitious goals of cutting CO2 emissions from domestic shipping and fishing by 50% by 2030. President Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen wished the parliamentarians a successful conference, good dialogue and enriching discussions.
Mr Audun Halvorsen, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, presented “Framework conditions for cooperation in Northern Europe”. He emphasised that the well-established and diverse network of cooperation structures was a strength. But it also represented a challenge when it came to coordination, the potential for overlapping efforts, and the need for strong prioritisation. Therefore, he said “we need to make sure that our work within these different fora is efficient, effective and that we create synergies and avoid duplication (…); such coordination is obviously a responsibility for the governments”.Mr Halvorsen highlighted another important issue, e.g. safeguarding the oceans. He stated that the balance between harvesting from our oceans and protecting them was even more important today – both in our neighbourhood and globally. Therefore, multilateral cooperation and international alliances were needed to push the global community to take action to ensure that the oceans would remain healthy and rich. That was why Norway’s Prime Minister last year had established the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The panel consisted of 14 serving heads of state and government from ocean and coastal states representing all continents. With input from experts, the private sector and civil society, the panel would present a roadmap for action to the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon in June 2020. The speaker informed the delegates that in the upcoming October, Norway would host the “Our Ocean Conference” in Oslo with the aim to highlight the importance of knowledge as the basis of all actions and policies to achieve sustainable economic growth. Finally, he underlined the importance of the interaction between practical, project-oriented cooperation and political dialogue. “Political dialogue has been and remains a core condition for agreeing on common objectives and priorities. At the same time, concrete cooperation projects facilitate political dialogue and mutual understanding,” stated the speaker. With that fundamental point, Mr Halvorsen concluded his speech.
Jorodd Asphjell, President of the BSPC, noted in his opening address that the historical context of the BSPC had been changing over time. These days, he pointed out, “we find ourselves in a situation of constructive collaboration in many policy fields in which we can all only benefit from cross-border cooperation. However, at the highest political level, we see rising tensions worldwide.” Therefore, he said, a discussion on how to reduce tensions and how to stabilise and maintain peace and prosperity was needed. Mr Asphjell welcomed the distinguished guests of the 28th BSPC conference, among them the former European Commissioner for Human Rights, the Ministers and the State Secretaries from the Labour Ministries of the CBSS countries, the Transport Minister of Latvia, who presides over the Northern Dimension for transport and logistics, and the State Secretary from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, who this year holds both the Presidency of HELCOM and the chairmanship of the EU Council in environmental affairs.
Summing up the Norwegian Presidency in the BSPC, he said, “In the past year, the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference has visibly and in every respect fulfilled its programmatic and strategic objectives and achieved significant progress: On the basis of our strategy and work programme 2018-2019 and our resolution,
we have communicated our principles and core messages at many Baltic Sea-relevant events and beyond,
we have intensified the cooperation with our partners, and
our programmatic concerns and contents are perceived more strongly.
We are becoming increasingly successful in influencing government action. Wherever possible, we have emphasised and strengthened the parliamentary dimension of cooperation. I hope that year after year, we will succeed better and better for the people who elected us.”
The opening was followed by three Monday sessions. The first session:
Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region proved how intensely the BSPC wascooperating with important stakeholders in the BSR and beyond. Incentive speeches to the debate on “Peaceful and close neighbourliness as well as intense cooperation based on democratic values, the rule of law, human rights and equal opportunitiesfor all”were given by: Mr Nils Muižnieks, former Council of Europe’s Commissioner forHuman Rights, and Dr Alexander Graef from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy University of Hamburg (IFSH). Next, the representative of the outgoing CBSS Presidency Ambassador Mr Juris Bone fromLatvia and Ms Ida Heimann Larsen,Chair of the CBSS Committee of Senior Officials from Denmark, presented the priorities and activities of the CBSS presidencies. Traditionally, a number of interregional cooperation organisations presented their achievements and possibilities for further cooperation in the Baltic Sea region.
The Second Session on the Future of Working Life welcomed speeches by eminent experts, ministers and high representatives of Labour Ministers from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Finland, Norway, Poland and Russia. In his opening address, the chair of the session, Prof Jānis Vucāns, President of the Baltic Assembly,noted that unemployment in Europe was historically low; nevertheless, the rapidly changing world of work had to be adapted and innovated. He expressed his strong belief that everybody’s living standards could be improved, provided that the governments together with the social partners, would invest in new and better skills, higher qualifications and social services. These investments could prevent a brain drain in the region.
The subject matter of the afternoon Monday session, Safeguarding the Oceans – Achieving the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals,was a consequence of the demands in the BSPC resolution in which the BSPC strongly called for immediate actions to achieve the UN Agenda 2030 goals and to realise the vision of a clean Baltic Sea free from marine litter. Another demand was to take urgent efficient action on the worrying levels of plastics and micro-plastics in the seas; and also to prepare for and help shape the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development” from 2021-2030 proclaimed by the United Nations. The chair of the session, Ms Valentina Pivnenko from the Russian Duma, said: “These are ambitious goals but they are necessary if we want to change the situation for the better and improve the state of heavily polluted seas.” The session was a continuation of a very successful Joint Meeting of the Standing Committees of the BSPC and the PABSEC on the topic “Safeguarding our Oceans and Marine Life” in Istanbul, in April 2019. The third session was an opportunity to exchange experiences and opinions by representatives of very different backgrounds among the speakers. Among these were: Mr Tālis Linkaits, Minister of Transport of the Republic of Latvia, Mr Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Special Envoy to the High-Level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy, and the BSPC Rapporteurs: Ms Saara-Sofia Sirén, Rapporteur on Eutrophication and Mr Jörgen Pettersson, Rapporteur on Integrated Maritime Policy.