"This has been a fine day," President of the Republic Tarja Halonen summed up at a press conference that was held by the arrangers of the Baltic Sea Action Summit at Finlandia Hall on Wednesday, 10 February. "Cooperation among political decision-makers, the private sector and NGOs has proved successful. In discussions with my colleagues and other participants, I had the feeling that this model could work in other meetings as well. It also showed that regional cooperation is important."
The summit was hosted by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Mr Ilkka Herlin, the Chairman of the Baltic Sea Action Group, who together launched the project.
President Halonen said she was pleased that so many were ready to make serious commitments and work together. She believes that the summit will strengthen the work of the Helsinki Commission, the EU's Baltic Sea and Northern Dimension policy and climate work on a broader scale. She noted that the summit brings new hope.
At the press conference Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen emphasized that the summit focused on action rather than declarations. He also considered the summit a success, not formal and conventional but something new.
The Chairman of the Baltic Sea Action Group, Mr Ilkka Herlin, said he was also pleased: the arrangers had expected 50 commitments but received three times as many, nearly 150. He believes that this type of cooperation among the public and private sectors and NGOs is a model for the future.
Even before the summit participants had made about 150 concrete commitments to protect the Baltic Sea. High-level delegations arrived in Helsinki from all the Baltic Sea countries and the European Commission.
In her opening speech President Halonen said she was very happy to see such a large and high-level group of participants. In addition to political leaders, NGOs and businesses were broadly represented, making this a new kind of summit. According to President Halonen, it is important for the Baltic Sea countries to set ambitious goals for cooperation. "Working together to solve environmental problems should enhance also our broader cooperation. Progress has been made in bringing down barriers between our countries, but we should continue to strive for more positive interaction," she said.
"Let us make the Baltic Sea a sea of sustainable development. We don't expect miracles but serious work by all of us," President Halonen urged participants.
In her speech President Halonen also presented her own commitments for a cleaner Baltic Sea. She promised to continue her work for the Baltic Sea personally and to promote the protection of the Baltic Sea through broad cooperation with her international colleagues as well as NGOs, political decision-makers and businesses.
President Halonen drew attention to young people as a special group and promised to support their activities to make the Baltic Sea healthy again. She also proposed an annual Baltic Sea Day.
Work to protect the Baltic Sea will not end with the summit: the Baltic Sea Action Group and the Helsinki Commission will monitor the implementation of commitments.
The summit was attended by heads of state and government and ministers from eleven countries around the Baltic Sea. Participants included King Carl XVI Gustaf and Minister of the Environment Andreas Carlgren of Sweden, President Valdis Zatlers of Latvia, President Dalia Grybauskaité of Lithuania, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip of Estonia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak of Poland, Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Ilse Aigner of Germany, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Vitali Kulik of Belarus and EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
The total number of participants was around 500.
The Baltic Sea Action Summit is a concrete example of the cooperation that President Halonen and Prime Minister Vanhanen called for in their letter to the heads of state and government of the Baltic Sea countries at the beginning of 2008. "We believe that you share our concern about the present state and the future of the Baltic Sea. We hope that we can work together to save the sea and to put into practice the programmes that we have all approved", they wrote.
The Baltic Sea has been a long-time focus for President Halonen. The Baltic Development Forum presented her with the Baltic Sea Award in December 2008, and in August 2008 President Halonen received the WWF Baltic Leadership Award.