Speeding up cooperation, integration and innovation

  • 2004-09-15
  • By Uffe Ellemann-Jensen
A squeaky wheel doesn't always get the grease it needs. Sometimes it gets replaced. It's up to ourselves to ensure that the Baltic Sea region gets the grease it needs in order not to be replaced as Europe's innovative growth region.

At the Baltic Development Forum summit in Hamburg last week, we launched a new report "The State of the Region 2004," and it is the grease that our region needs in order to stay the cause and move on in the right direction.
Our region 's with the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic countries as well as Russia, Poland and Germany 's has been very successful in the last decade. We not only greased the wheel but fuelled our region in due time when others hesitated. Decisive and coordinated action has made us Europe's innovative growth region.
"The State of the Region 2004" outlined that the Baltic Sea region constitutes a diverse mix of strengths, experiences and approaches to innovation. Each country has a unique innovation profile. The Scandinavian countries are already world leaders in innovation. At the same time, the Baltic countries and Poland are showing remarkable dynamism and momentum with high economic growth rates and with strong improvements in many innovation indicators.
The latest progress report on European competitiveness and the Lisbon agreement shows very clearly what we already knew: Achieving and maintaining competitiveness relates on the ability to connect and integrate. The fastest growing regions in Europe today are those that have most successfully managed to integrate within the region and into the international competitive system.
And this is the Baltic Sea region's foremost strength.
Let me just remind you that at the end of the nineties people would smile leniently when some of us envisioned that the three Baltic countries, together with Poland, could be full members of the EU by 2004. People simply underestimated our ability to achieve common goals integrate within the region and into the international competitive system. At the annual Leangkollen conference near Oslo in 1994 there was complete silence when some of us demanded full membership of the EU and NATO for the Baltic countries and Poland within 10 years. It was almost like people were feeling a little embarrassed being confronted with such wild ideas. No one believed that the region's governments and business community would embrace these goals as soon as in 2002. But they did. Because we set ourselves ambitious but realistic goals and went for them together as good neighbors should.
Today, we live in a region where eight out of 10 countries are influential members of the EU, some are even members of both the EU and of NATO, and all are brave supporters of trans-Atlantic cooperation. During the early '90s, the Baltic Sea countries also created an impressive array of regional institutions and networks. These initiatives have all proven to be huge assets for our region. However, at the Hamburg Summit several speakers and participants argued that we need more coordinated action from these institutions and a shared understanding of our ambitions for the Baltic Sea region in the future.
In short, we need a strategy based upon a common Baltic Sea initiative. A Baltic Sea initiative will provide a new direction for our region as we enter the post-EU accession era. A common initiative by the 10 Baltic Sea countries will fuel cooperation and integration and even help speed up our progress within innovation.
It is important that the region's decision makers understand that economic growth and competitiveness are driven by the ability to innovate. The Baltic Sea region needs to think of new ways of doing business.
Innovation is to a large extent dependent on the interaction between companies, universities and the public sector. The Baltic Development Forum has always facilitated this linkage, and today it is needed more than we ever imagined. One of the key conclusions at the summit in Hamburg was that only by facilitating a linkage between companies, universities and the public sector could we improve innovation and thereby also improve our economic performance.
I suggest that we all use the next year to define strategic areas where the Baltic Sea region should take specific action that can ensure comparative global advantages and make progress within innovation.
This process should gradually produce common targets and areas for action with goals and benchmarks to ensure proper follow up. A common Baltic Sea initiative with a clearly defined action agenda could then eventually become the basis for discussions and possible endorsement at the Stockholm Summit.
It would be a milestone for the Baltic Sea region just to get the process started. It would need a lot more than grease to get the wheels rolling. The region needs to be invigorated to continue its lead as Europe's innovative growth region. But this region is famous for its action, and that is why I believe it will happen. o

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen
is chairman of the Baltic Development Forum.