Changes needed for improved regional competitiveness

  • 2010-08-04
  • From wire reports

VILNIUS - The successful development of the Baltic Sea region depends on a deeper integration of its Eastern and Western parts, good infrastructure and research, innovation and a knowledge-based society, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Azubalis said, reports news agency ELTA. On July 31 in Klaipeda, the minister participated in the annual International Summer Academy held by the institute of development and education Educatio, The Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Young Christian Democrats of Lithuania. The topic of the Academy this year was ‘Implementation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region: Theory and Practice.’

The minister noted that reports show that the Baltic Sea region continues to be amongst the most competitive and innovative areas in the world. However, there are still significant disparities in a competitive advantage in different parts of the region. “Our region needs deeper integration in order to secure and strengthen its competitive position and realize its development potential,” Azubalis said.

He added that Lithuania seeks that the north and Baltic States become a community of values, and revive their practical cooperation and integration. This year, on the initiative of the Baltic States, the wise men group from the Baltic-Nordic countries was created, which will give proposals for further cooperation leading up to April next year.
One of the most important areas of cooperation and integration, according to the minister, is the development of energy, transport and research infrastructure. “Future perspectives of secure and sustainable energy supply, integration of energy markets and infrastructure, and potentials of renewable energy in the region are considered to be the absolute priority issues. We must also invest in transport infrastructure - roads, railroads, and aviation - to create markets and new opportunities to do business in the region,” stressed Azubalis.

According to him, implementation of the Baltic Sea Strategy can also contribute to establishing closer relationships with neighboring non-EU countries - Norway, Iceland, Russia and Belarus -that take part in discussions about their role in regional cooperation. “This is especially practicable in relation to the Kaliningrad region which, being surrounded by EU member states, could employ the Strategy as a sort of ‘regional incubator’ to stimulate its social and economic development,” Azubalis said.

Further effective cooperation with Russia and Belarus, by implementing the Strategy, should be not only based on a bilateral level, but also provide measures to promote regional cooperation by the European Neighborhood Policy, he added.
In order to make the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region bring more tangible benefits to the region, the minister emphasized the importance of the private sector and non-governmental organizations’ involvement, work priorities and adequate funding. “It is absolutely essential that the Strategy-related measures be prioritized, funded and put into effect. Of course, it would be taking some time before everyone was well integrated into their roles. If we look at the goals set by the Strategy - competitiveness, infrastructure, environment, safety and security - it is clear that notable results cannot be achieved overnight,” Azubalis said.

In 2009, the EU approved its strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The Strategy aims at coordinating action by member states concerning the issues important for the region. The strategy allows a more efficient use of EU funds and funds from international financial institutions, better coordination of the positions and better use of the Baltic Sea region’s development potential. According to the European Commission’s Action Plan, 80 projects are to be carried out, which will become a key tool in implementing the most important policy priorities.