"LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ENVIRONMENT", a Conference organized by the Association of Finnish Local Authorities in Helsinki, 1-3 September, 1993
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to take the floor on this occasion, the closing session of your important and topical conference on "Local government and environment".
Our theme today is 'Local government co-operation and its advancement in the Baltic Sea region'. This subject-matter is close to the 90 million citizens who live within the Baltic Sea area.
On a continental scale, two opposing trends prevail in Europe today, eastern federalisation and western integration. A central element in both these developments, is an increasing emphasis on regional cooperation. Several new fora and a large number of proposals relating to
regional co-operation have been introduced in recent times. In Central Europe we have the Vishegrad-group of countries and the Central European Initiative and new forms of co-operation have developed in the Mediterranean and the Barents Sea regions.
The importance of regional co-operation has also increased in bilateral relations between sovereign states. For Finland, the so-called Neighbouring Area co-operation with Russia and the Baltic countries is a significant new dimension in foreign policy.
The Council of the Baltic Sea States, established in March 1992, is an intergovernmental co-operation structure for ten coastal states and the EC Commission.
In fact, the CBSS, with its comprehensive approach, does not intend to confine itself to the so-called 'governmental matters'. According to the Declaration of its founding conference, the Council "will serve as an overall regional forum to focus on needs for intensified co-operation and co-ordination among the Baltic Sea States".
Co-operation between the Council members aims at strengthening cohesion among the countries concerned, leading to greater political and economic stability as well as to a regional identity. In the light of these objectives, it is quite appropriate that the Council's work is based on
We have now an 18-month CBSS record behind us, and therefore some comments on the experiences gained over that period are in order.
With your permission, I will first take up, briefly, the scope and modalities of the Council's work, then consider what has been achieved so far and, finally, try to outline future prospects for the CBSS. l will also touch upon sub-regional and environment-related elements in the Council's
The scope of the CBSS work, as traced in the founding Declaration, is wide, indeed: the areas of co-operation to which 'special attention' should be given, cover many fields of day-to-day government activity. For instance, the following subjects should be dealt with:
1) assistance to new democratic institutions, including human rights, the rule of law and sovereignty support aspects;
2) economic and technological assistance and co-operation, notably to facilitate transition to a market economy and to promote the Baltic Sea region as "a new zone of growth";
3) humanitarian matters and health, covering problems ranging from the supply of food, medicine and fuel to the prevention of drug abuse and the causes of increasing migration;
4) energy issues and protection of the environment, with an emphasis on cleaning up the Baltic Sea as a joint responsibility.
In the field of nuclear safety, strengthening of national nuclear safety institutions and the development of regional co-operation are questions that must be addressed.
The Council should also consider:
5) co-operation in the field of culture, education, tourism and information,
6) transport and communication
And last but not least, a point that concerns this assembly in particular; the Declaration has a particular chapter on co-operation among regions in the Baltic Sea area.
In this context, it was affirmed that successful Baltic Sea co-operation requires engagement by political decision-makers at all levels. The CBSS will encourage regional initiatives, both public and private, as long as they contribute to this co-operation.
Thus the Council's work is fully governmental in scope, excluding only the domains of foreign and security policies. Obviously, the CSCE and the UN are already there as accepted multilateral frameworks for addressing political and security issues pertaining also to the Baltic Sea area.
In contrast to the wide subject-area of the Council, its institutional instruments have remained modest. For fear of 'bureaucracy', no permanent CBSS organs have been created. Neither has the CBSS any budget, but each party bears its own expenses.
The chairmanship of the Council of the Baltic Sea States rotates on a yearly basis. The first chairman, Finland, has been succeeded by Estonia, and Poland will take over next year. The three states - the CBSS Chairman-in-office, the preceding one and the Chairman 'in spe' - constitute an unofficial 'troika' for consultation purposes.
Outside the annual ministerial Council sessions, the bulk of the operational work is carried out by the CBSS Chairmanship which guarantees the services and functioning of the Committee of Senior Officials. The latter body, as 'deputies' of the Ministers, is charged with the
implementation of the decisions taken in the course of the ministerial sessions.
All in all - the Council structure in its present form applies to dialogue and exchange of information on a vast array of subjects. Through ministerial decisions, resolutions or common initiatives, especially in the annual ministerial Council sessions, the CBSS may provide
important political impulses in various fields.
The greatest practical problem is the scarcity of resources which forces the Council to focus strictly on the main items only.
The first Annual Report of the Council and the Communiqué of the Second Ministerial Session, held in March 1993, provide detailed information on the results of the Council's work as well as on suggestions for future activities. Here I just take up some salient points.
Apart from reviewing the situation in the agreed areas of co-operation, including exchanges of first-hand information, the Council has tackled complicated concrete questions. This has been reflected in an increase in activity within the four working groups, functioning under the Committee of Senior Officials.
It may be interesting to note that even without any prior planning, one half of the working-group activity has gone to discussing the sequels of problems inherited from the past, the other half to future-oriented projects.
As a first concrete measure, the Council's Second Ministerial Session in March took a decision to establish a "Euro-faculty" in Riga, with branches to be opened in Tartu and Vilnius. The purpose of this institute of higher education is to introduce both teachers and students of the new democracies of the Baltic Sea area to the science of law and market-economy studies with a practical orientation. The starting conference of this Faculty will be held later this month.
Another achievement of the Council is the drafting of a comprehensive report on problems relating to nuclear and radiation safety in the Baltic Sea area. This pioneer undertaking, comprising, for the first time, both the civilian and the military aspects concerned, was conducted by the working group on Radiation and Nuclear Safety. The group's future work includes the setting up of a joint monitoring network for radiation safety in the Baltic region.
I may also mention another undertaking with a heavy political content; the Council's organs have been instructed by the ministerial session to draft a mandate for a "CBSS Commissioner on human rights and minorities' questions". The purpose with the commissioner is to create an additional safety valve for questions concerning human rights and minorities in each Baltic sea state, The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe has established the standards to be followed.
In setting the mandate for the CBSS Commissioner, we shall try to avoid activities overlapping those of the CSCE, the Council of Europe and UN mechanisms and, on the other hand, to establish co-operation with any relevant bodies which may help sort out these delicate problems. Let me add that drafting in the CBSS working group in question has been proceeding smoothly.
The Council faces the pressing challenge of promoting economic co-operation in the Baltic Sea area. This summer a working group was established for this purpose. Particular emphasis will be placed on regional infrastructure bottle-necks, also with a view to participation by international financial institutions. Transport, telecommunications and the energy sector will be in focus here. Finland is, for example, very keen to see advancement in the "Via Baltica" motorway project, launched on a shared-responsibility basis.
Closely linked with economic co-operation and the environment, sub-regional co-operation will receive increasing attention in the CBSS. Following a rewarding meeting in St. Petersburg in late 1992, there will be another 'on site' meeting in Kaliningrad in October. Local government organs of the Baltic Sea states will, for their part, hold a first meeting of their own in Stavanger in early October.
The Stavanger meeting will be the first effort in the CBSS context to enhance local-government co-operation. Our experience from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council has been very encouraging in this respect. One might sometimes argue that local-government co-operation organs are making bigger decisions than the participating states.
To conclude, let me say a few words on the future prospects of the CBSS.
Provided that general political developments among the Baltic Sea States proceed without serious difficulties, the Council's perspectives appear very promising. Economic recession and the problems bound with the transition process may hamper progress, but these difficulties will be surmounted with time.
The main fields of activity in the CBSS, that is economic co-operation, protection of the environment as a common effort, human rights and minority issues, international education, transport and communication, will remain the focal points of co-operation in the whole Baltic Sea region.
The CBSS will therefore be further needed as a regional framework to stabilize the political and economic effects of the diverging institutional relationships of the parties, in the face of the advancing European integration process. The CBSS will be called upon to extend co-operation beyond mere contacts and information with the G-24, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Central European Initiative and other relevant bodies. The question of more structured CBSS co-operation remains on the table, since the answer depends ultimately on the role that the parties will give to the Council.
The promotion of co-operation among local-government representatives will also remain an important point in our efforts. I therefore hope that the results of this conference can be conveyed to the CBSS, providing a platform for future activity plans. Subsidiarity should be our goal not only in the European Union but on our continent as a whole.