Address by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Clean Baltic Sea Club on 30 August 2012

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I am pleased to attend the annual forum of the Clean Baltic Sea Club. As the name implies the ultimate goal of the Club and John Nurminen Foundation is to enable us to one day have a clean Baltic Sea again. The tragic reality of today, however, is such that actually we could call this gathering a meeting of the Dirty Baltic Sea Club.

Indeed, as we all know, the situation of the Baltic Sea has deteriorated over the past decades. It is now considered by many as the most polluted sea in the world. It is not only shameful for us but is opposite to the profile we want to reflect to the rest of the world. We claim to represent the prosperous, technologically advanced and environmentally conscious and responsible northern Europe. Yet at the same time we have failed in protecting our Mare Nostrum. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that we didn’t know. Scientific research results have been available already long enough.

It could be tempting to analyse how and why we ended up failing so badly in taking care of our Baltic Sea. Now, however, rather than dwelling on the past we must look forward. We need to focus all our attention on how to save the Sea. Despite the past failures the situation we are in is not hopeless. In fact, there are many good reasons for us to say: “yes, we can do it”.

First of all, it is extremely important that there is a high awareness of the Baltic Sea issue and its serious and urgent nature. The media has done a good job by drawing attention to the issue and monitoring the ongoing efforts.

Another condition has also already been met. As I said, owing to years of research we have a pretty good understanding of the ecological state of the Baltic Sea. We are familiar with the major factors that play a role in polluting it. In other words, we know the disease that our patient is suffering from and we know what is causing it. We also have sufficient knowledge on which medicine needs to be applied.

There is one more good reason for optimism. We are operating in a part of the world which has well-functioning institutions and networks for regional cooperation. In the environmental field, the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission HELCOM provides the framework that enables us to agree on the necessary treatment.

In 2007 HELCOM adopted a program known as the Baltic Sea Action Plan. It aims at restoring the good ecological state of the Baltic Sea by 2021. All the nine countries around the Sea as well as the European Commission have agreed on doing their share in implementing this Plan in which eutrophication, hazardous substances and maritime activities are identified as the root causes for the problems. Now it is time to prove that actions speak louder than words.

Eight of the nine HELCOM countries are also members of the European Union. That means the EU can and must take a very active role in making sure that its member countries really walk the walk. The EU has adopted a number of directives aiming at improving the quality of water management in its member countries. Furthermore, the EU has committed itself to saving the Baltic Sea in its Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The environmental goals of the Strategy are based directly on the relevant directives as well as the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan.

Naturally, saving the Sea must involve not only the EU countries of the Region. The good news is that also the ninth HELCOM member Russia is increasingly paying attention and contributing to the efforts made to take better care of the Baltic Sea. Let me give three examples in this respect. First, Russia is an active participant in the Environmental Partnership of the Northern Dimension. This was demonstrated by its allocation of funds to support projects carried out within this cooperation framework. One of the most significant results of such activities has been the construction of St. Petersburg Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Second, Russia has adopted the North-West Federal District Socio-economic Development Strategy. I believe it can pave the way for an intensification of joint efforts between the EU countries and Russia to tackle also the challenge of cleaning the Sea.

Third, Russia has agreed to host the second Baltic Sea Action Summit in St. Petersburg. We hope it will lead to the federal government and Russia’s regional and local levels of government as well as private enterprises to make more commitments for the good of the Sea.

Actions like this are exactly what we need, because although we know the problem, we need more funds. The governments are facing tough economic times. In such times environment tends to be seen as a luxury good that you can give up if you are short of money. This kind of thinking is very short-sighted and based on misconceptions. This is also why we desperately need concepts such as the BSAS and John Nurminen Foundation.

The Clean Baltic Sea activities of the John Nurminen Foundation have proven to be an excellent example of how the private sector can make a major contribution to boosting the efforts to clean the Sea. The Foundation has chosen to apply business sector principles in its activities. Projects have to be cost-efficient and bring concrete results in the shortest possible time. This has been a successful approach.

The Foundation has divided its work into two branches. On the one hand, it is treating the patient with projects to combat one of the major causes of the pollution, the eutrophication of the Sea. It has already for almost ten years played a catalytic role in raising funds for such projects. Another recent success story of the Foundation is the role it played in helping to bring the phosphorous discharges to the Luga River in Kingisepp under control.
In addition, the Nurminen Foundation is involved in preventive healthcare. It is developing a vessel traffic control system, which aims at improving the safety of the increasing maritime traffic. Both branches tackle issues that in HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan are identified as key challenges.

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Those of us who have been able to enjoy the Sea when it was clean or at least not dead yet, have a responsibility to make sure that also our children and grandchildren will be able to do the same. Saving the Baltic Sea is a must. Saving the Baltic Sea is also doable. We must stick to what we have started and intensify our efforts to reach the goal of a clean Baltic Sea by 2021. Let us welcome every and any newcomer who wants to contribute to these efforts and let us compete with each other in a cooperative spirit – not trying to win each other but making sure that the winner in the end will be the Baltic Sea.

I wish the John Nurminen Foundation success in its invaluable work. I firmly believe the day will not lie too far in the future when no-one can question why this Club merits to be called the Clean Baltic Sea Club.