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EU to the Rescue of the Baltic Sea?

The EU Observer reports that the European Commission and the Swedish government (which takes over the rotating EU presidency in July), are contemplating plans for strengthening political cooperation in the Baltic Sea region in an attempt to address the problem of serious pollution in the area as well as the issue of energy supplies to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The EU Observer writes:

The “Baltic Sea Strategy” – the EU’s first regional-level policy – is to create a new club for the eight Baltic coastal countries which may in future meet regularly at foreign minister level to push forward local-interest projects.

The club will not have its own budget or secretariat but is likely to be supported by a new cell in the commission’s regions department, which is responsible for spending the lion’s share of EU annual funds.

First of all, an increased focus on the Baltic Sea is very much welcomed. The Baltic Sea, one of the largest areas of brackish water in the world, has for a long time suffered from severe levels of pollution given its wide catchment area (roughly four times the size of the Sea itself). In addition, the Baltic Sea is only connected to the oceans by a very narrow strait limiting the exchange of water in the Sea. This has lead to a situation where the salinity levels of the Baltic Sea are much lower than compared to other seas, which in turn makes the Baltic Sea home to fewer although unique species (see in general the latest Assessment Report from the Helsinki Commission). To make things even more complicated, vast amounts (up to 40.000 tonnes) of chemical munitions were dumped in the Baltic Sea during and after the Second World War. In this light alone, the initiative by the Swedish government and the Commission is to be welcomed.

Of course it could be called into question whether there is a need for a new regional “group” or initiative to deal with the problems confronting the Baltic Sea. Will the creation of such a strategy not merely add to further fragmentation of an already splintered Community? For instance, France’s Nikolas Sarkozy was heavily criticised for promoting the project of a “Mediterranean Club” not too long ago. On the other hand, it may be asserted that the setting up of such regional arrangements simply reflect the principle of subsidiarity. If this is the case, this seems to be a strong argument in favour of the Commission’s plans. Given the fragile status of the Baltic Sea, surely the countries around it would be better placed to deal with the challenges facing it.

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