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I would like to cordially thank the Baltic Development Forum, the Swedbank and the jury for this special recognition. It is a great honour to receive the Award and to be considered to be among those persons who have taken action to help save the Baltic Sea. Again, my warmest thanks to you.
It is a particular pleasure to attend the Gala Dinner of this year’s Summit, when the Baltic Development Forum celebrates its 10-year anniversary.
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It is our joint responsibility to take action to save the Baltic Sea – the ‘Mare Nostrum’. About a year ago, I wrote a letter together with the Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, to all Heads of State and Government of the nine Baltic Sea countries on the need to work together to improve the state of the Sea. I am committed to this work and willing to gather people together to high-level meetings or a summit for the sake of our Sea.
We, the people living around the region, are often said to be among the most environmentally conscious people in the world. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Baltic Sea is one of the worst polluted and exploited waters in the world.
The Baltic Sea forms a unique natural environment. The same characteristics that make our Sea unique also make it very sensitive. Everything that happens in its catchment area affects it. But what is caused by human action may still be remedied by human action. It is not easy and means that we will need to seriously consider our way of living and our every-day choices.
A lot of good things are happily already taking place. Public and private partnerships, cross-sector and cross-border networks have been created around the region. The Baltic Development Forum is one valuable example of this.
In St Petersburg, international projects have successfully helped the cleaning of community wastewater. In Poland, concrete action is taking place to reduce the amount of phosphorus in wastewater. Polish cities have launched a “Clean Baltic Sea Poland” project together with the John Nurminen Foundation from Finland and the Baltic Sea 2020 Foundation from Sweden.
The Baltic Sea Action Plan – adopted by the Helsinki Commission a year ago – serves as a strong guidance for us to fight eutrophication. Commitments made by the HELCOM parties only need to be supported with actual policy decisions. We must – for example – seek encouraging means to reduce the nutrient loads from agriculture and community wastewaters.
Actions by individual people are important, too. I take one practical example from my own country. Many people in Finland – from amateur fishermen to people spending their holidays in summer cottages – participate in the work to observe alarming algae masses in the sea area. These kinds of volunteer activities provide valuable help to authorities.
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The Sea connects people and countries together. In this region, maritime transport is a vital means of transport. For example, more than 80 percent of Finland’s foreign trade is shipped across the Baltic Sea.
Safe and secure shipping must be a key part of our regional cooperation. Joint measures have been set up in this area. Estonia, Finland and Russia have established the Gulf of Finland Reporting System. The GOFREP is a good example of a common system for maritime safety.
The International Maritime Organization has granted the Sea the official status of a ‘Particularly Sensitive Sea Area’. We are in the process towards the complete ban of single-hulled vessels in the Baltic Sea.
Besides the development of technical systems, we also need to put the emphasis on people. Good training and experience of navigators, people working on ships and in vessel traffic centres are excellent guarantees for safety.
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This region, where we are meeting today, is an example of vibrant cross-border cooperation and integration. The Oresund Bridge connects Malmö and Copenhagen and the surrounded regions as an active economic entity.
The enlargement of the European Union has opened up new opportunities for businesses and citizens, and to the civil society, in the Baltic Sea region. Eight out of the nine coastal states of the Sea are EU Member States. We must both intensify our regional cooperation within the Union – therefore I welcome the EU's Baltic Sea strategy – and aim at integrating Russia in a cooperation to a much wider extent than today.
We in Finland feel that the EU’s Northern Dimension Policy – which does include also Russia, Norway and Iceland – provides a valuable framework for broader cooperation in the Baltic Sea area. Partnerships under the Northern Dimension have already produced good results in many areas.
This region has a lot of potential – despite the difficult times in the economic situation. With investment in research and development, in education and training and with good infrastructure the Baltic Sea region can be a very attractive area for the development of innovations. There is also a lot of expertise in our area on environmentally friendly technologies, on producing energy from renewable sources and effective treatment of waste.
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Finally, I want to stress to importance of action at all levels. We need to involve everyone in to our joint work – the states, the European Union, other international organizations, businesses, non-governmental organizations, cities and schools.
We have a long tradition of cultural cooperation and people to people contacts in the Baltic Sea region, which have created valuable bonds between our nations. We should take full benefit from this, too.
If we are successful in bringing all actors together, we will be able to improve the state of our Sea and to promote sustainable development, prosperity and business opportunities in the whole region. And, at the same time, we will effectively contribute to the work of addressing global challenges.
Thank you very much for your attention. And thank you very much for the Award and the recognition, which I do value greatly. I will donate the Award money to the work to improve the state of the Baltic Sea. I will soon agree on practical details with the Baltic Development Forum.