Opening speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the 27th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Mariehamn on 27 August 2018

I am very pleased to address you at the 27th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Mariehamn. Let me warmly congratulate the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference and the host, Ålands lagting, for organizing this year’s conference.

As we know, the BSPC was established in 1991 to serve as a forum for parliamentarians of the region to discuss political topics of regional importance. Today, this goal is still valid, even increasingly so. This year’s themes: a secure and prosperous Baltic Sea area, democracy and human rights, migration and integration, serve the goal well.

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The tradition of cooperation among the countries around the Baltic Sea is exceptional:  we remember from history the Hanseatic League, and the flourishing trade of those days. Throughout the history cooperation across the Baltic Sea has brought remarkable benefits for the peoples living around it. The sea connected us long before the road and railroad network.

There is probably no other region in the world where the network of different regional cooperation structures is as dense as it is in the Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, the HELCOM, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation and the Union of the Baltic Cities, just to mention a few .

For us who live in the region, it is clear that Baltic Sea cooperation is at the same time regional and genuinely international activity. Not only littoral states, not only EU countries, but all countries of the region sit around the same table. Together, tackling the issues that are common for all of us. The idea of keeping all involved is the message and the lesson learned which is worth underlining wherever regional cooperation is discussed.

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The European Council took the initiative towards a new kind of macro-regional thinking by adopting the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) in 2009.

Next year, Finland will assume the Presidency of the European Union. Then, 10 years after the adoption of the Strategy, is a good moment to take a look at its achievements. The purpose of the EU Strategy is to find solutions to the challenges faced by the Region: connect the region, save the sea and increase prosperity.

Today, the implementation of the Strategy combines a number of actors working towards common goals. The Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference as well as municipalities, academia, non-governmental organizations and business have an important role to play. The EU’s Northern Dimension Partnership activities also aim, for example, towards a cleaner and safer environment.

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When arriving to the Åland islands, we can see that the archipelago truly is one of the most beautiful ones in the world with its thousands of islands of smooth rocks and species-rich landscape. Unfortunately, the Baltic Sea around this priceless landscape is not feeling well at all. Especially after this exceptionally warm summer, we have witnessed quite worrying algal blooms. This summer, the sky has been clear, but the sea hasn’t.

The sea has served us well throughout the history, and we must ensure it will do so also in the future. Climate change and eutrophication are our common concerns. Each country, each parliament, each citizen needs to be involved in turning the tide in order to meet the sustainable development goals and restore the ecological health of the sea.

Much has already been done for the cleaner sea, but we need to speed up our actions.  We cannot delay reducing the nutrient load from human activities, like agriculture, nor in reducing the amount of plastic litter that enter the sea. Action is needed now. We, you and me, gathered here today, have the responsibility and it cannot be handed over to future generations.

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A cornerstone of environmental cooperation in our region is the Helsinki Commission, HELCOM, which has for decades done valuable inter-governmental work on protecting the marine environment of the Baltic Sea.

Finland took over the Chairmanship of HELCOM this summer for a two-year period. A priority of the Finnish Chairmanship is the updating of The HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), the roadmap for achieving the goals for a healthy sea environment. Likewise, Finland pays particular attention to the effects of climate change on the Baltic Sea. We emphasize the need to reduce nutrient inputs and to foster nutrient recycling.

I warmly support the idea that one day the Baltic Sea region also becomes a model area for sustainable development.

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We have big challenges ahead, but we are not to be pessimistic. On the contrary. The long tradition of mutual cooperation is our superpower.

Together we are stronger. Together we will sustain a secure and prosperous Baltic Sea area. Together we will achieve the goals for a better environment.

But we have to keep in mind: structures and conferences don’t mean anything without concrete action.

I wish you enriching discussions and a good spirit of cooperation. Thank you.