The creation of macro regions is trending in today’s European Union. The first instance of this trend has been the empowerment of the Baltic Sea region, which is considered the most promising in Europe by virtue of having a dedicated strategy of the EU Baltic Sea Region. The reasons underpinning a successful partnership between the countries of the region relate to close regional co-operation politics, which sprung from the Council of the Baltic Sea States.
The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) was established as an informal regional political forum in Copenhagen in 1992. The main idea was to promote integration in the region characterized by a great diversity looking from the economic and social viewpoint. With the fall of iron curtain states like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, rejuvenated Russian Federation and also the part of Germany previously called the German Democratic Republic, have made their comeback to the Baltic Sea region. Today, the Baltic Sea region is recognized as the most successful example of regional co-operation, and not only in the European Union. By now the CBSS has reached its main goals and objectives, and retains its importance to Lithuania in a wide spectrum of activities coinciding with Lithuania’s national interests.
Activities of the CBSS include every aspect of Baltic Sea region’s intergovernmental co-operation but military defense.
- CBSS is made up of 11 member states: Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Norway, the Russian Federation, Finland, Sweden, and Germany, with EU having a special status.
- Observers are: Belarus, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, the USA, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Hungary.
The Council is the highest body of the CBSS and consists of Foreign Affairs Ministers of its member states and the representative of the European Union. The meetings of Foreign Affairs Ministers are arranged every two years since 1992, as well as meetings of the Heads of the Governments, (first such meeting took place in Sweden in 1996). The chairmanship by each member state rotates on an annual basis (from July 1st until June 30th). The Foreign Affairs Minister of the chairing state is also responsible for co-ordination of the work of the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO), which in turn assists and represents the Minister in between the Ministerial meetings. The CSO consists of high-ranking representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the 11 CBSS Member States as well as a representative of the European Union. The chairperson of the CSO is delegated by a country holding the Presidency that year. The CSO works as the main discussion and decision-making body.
Latvia chairs the CBSS from July 1st 2018 to June 30th 2019. Later, the Presidency will pass onto Denmark. Lithuania will chair the CBSS from July 1st 2020 to June 30th 2021.
In 2014, during the Finnish Presidency, three long-term priorities of co-operation were approved of: fostering regional identity, aiming at sustainable and prosperous development of the region, and ensuring the safety and security of its citizens and infrastructure. The chairing state - the Presidency - is free to choose additionally its activity priorities for the year. During its Presidency, Latvia will put particular emphasis on three priorities:
- Societal security and integrity (strengthening of cooperation while ensuring public security in cases of all types of cataclysms within the region)
- Dialogue (preservation of the cultural heritage by using good practices and modern technologies)
- Responsibility (attainment of objectives related to region’s sustainability)
In 2017, in the light of the changing political situation in the region as well as in Europe, the Ministers of CBSS decided to reform the Organization so that it could better match current needs. The Vision Group developed proposals for the implementation of a large-scale organizational reform. The Member States of the Organization are due to consider the proposals and present a reform draft under the Latvian and Danish Presidencies.
Lithuania chaired the CBSS in 1989-1999 and in 2009-2010. The Summit of the CBSS Heads of State took place in Vilnius in 2010. It has adopted a highly significant Vilnius Declaration “A Vision for the Baltic Sea Region by 2020”, which established development ideas for further co-operation in the region within the upcoming decade. This declaration remains the basic document for regional co-operation until 2020.
On 3 June 2019, Jūrmala hosted the concluding high-level meeting of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. The event was attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, and Sweden, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Secretary General of the European External Action Service, and other high-ranking officials from CBSS member states.
The participants discussed latest developments and challenges to cooperation in the Baltic Sea region, ensuring balance between political dialogue and practical cooperation in the CBSS, as well as improving cooperation with other regional organisations and cooperation platforms. In his speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius reminded that the Vilnius Declaration signed in 2010 emphasized the potential of the Baltic Sea Region to become one of the most prosperous, innovative and competitive regions in the world. Today, the Baltic cooperation is an example to other European regions. However, it is difficult to conduct dialogue when one member is openly demonstrating its aggression towards its neighbours. All the member states of the CBSS have to live up to the rules and the commitments they have agreed to when joining the CBSS. Only then, the trust can be restored, concluded the minister.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the ministers and high-level representatives adopted two documents: the Jūrmala Declaration and the Roadmap of the CBSS reforms for 2018–2020. The Roadmap of the CBSS Reforms adds impetus towards enhancing the organisation’s work in the context of the report by the CBSS Vision Group, “Vision for the Baltic Sea Region beyond 2020”, and its recommendations. The Roadmap underlines the need for the CBSS to become more flexible, innovative and effective, to be able to cooperate with other international partners in the region, whilst not losing its unique features and the focused practical cooperation. The implementation of the Roadmap of the CBSS Reforms will continue under the next, Danish Presidency of the CBSS.
An invited guest to the meeting, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Oleg Kravchenko, stressed in his speech the interest of Belarus as a CBSS observer to get actively involved in cooperation projects offered by the CBSS in the field of environment, education, human trafficking, and others.
The CBSS member states co-operate in various expert and work groups, inter alia:
- Expert Group on Nuclear and Radiation Safety (EGNRS),
- Expert Group on Sustainable Maritime Economy (EGSME)
- Task-Force Against Trafficking in Human Beings (TF-THB),
- The Expert Group on Children at Risk ( CAR),
- The Expert Group “Baltic 2030” on Sustainable Development (EGSD),
- The Baltic Sea Task-Force on Organized Crime (BSTF) – Heads of the government are in charge,
- Monitoring Group on Cultural Heritage in the Baltic Sea Region (BSMGHC),
- Ars Baltica Organizing Committee (ABOC) on Cultural Cooperation,
- Vision and Strategies around the Baltic Sea (VASAB).
CBSS works closely with other regional organizations ant its strategic partners:
- Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC),
- Baltic Islands Network (B7)
- The Baltic Sea States Subregional Cooperation (BSSSC),
- The Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC),
- Baltic Sea NGO Network,
- Baltic Sea Trade Union Network (BASTUN),
- The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM),
- Baltic Sea Region University Network (BSRUN).
New organizations are constantly added to those lists.
The CBSS has established a special Project Support Fond to assist regional cooperation projects. The Fund is supported by all the member states.
Many prominent organizations became CBSS project partners.
Swedish Institute (SI) is a project partner that has worked closely with the CBSS for many years across all priority areas. The strongest collaboration has been across the various leadership programmes on topics such as low carbon economy, labour and employement and civil security.
Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) is a sister Council and collaboration has most recently focused on counter trafficking in human beings and children‘s rights in joint programmes.
Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is a regional organisation that the CBSS has collaborated with on the topic of Climate Adaptation.
Central European Initiative (CEI) is a regional organisation where CBSS has a long history of instituional relations.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is where the CBSS‘ Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings alongside with the Children at Risk group is a member of the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons. More recently the civil security portfolio has given input to the EFF Economic and Environmental Forum.
CBSS participates in three activities of EUSBSR: Policy Area Secure, Horizontal Action Climate, Horizontal Action Neighbours.
In 1998 a Permanent International Secretariat of the CBSS was established in Stockholm. It provides technical and organizational support to the Chairperson of the CBSS, the CSO and the structures and working bodies of the Council, ensures continuity and enhances co-ordination of CBSS activities, implements the CBSS Information and Communication Strategy. The Permanent International Secretariat maintains the CBSS archives and information database. The Director General, Ambassador Maira Mora, currently leads the Permanent International Secretariat of the CBSS.
Permanent International Secretariat: http://www.cbss.org/