An EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR)

Briefing 20-10-2022

Covering almost one third of the EU's area, but only 17.9 % of the EU population, the Baltic Sea region encompasses a group of countries characterised by a high degree of interdependence, with a tradition of cooperation dating back to the late Middle Ages and the Hanseatic League. This shared identity was cemented further through the EU accession of the Baltic States and Poland in 2004, increasing to eight the number of EU Member States in the Baltic region (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden). Yet despite the introduction of common EU rules and policies, opening up new prospects for improving growth and living standards through closer coordination, persistent differences have remained between the prosperous northern and western seaboards of the Baltic and its less developed southern and eastern countries. Concerns over the deteriorating state of the Baltic Sea itself, and a sense that the region had failed to make best use of the opportunities of EU membership, led to calls for action and the adoption of the first-ever EU dedicated macro-regional strategy in 2009 (EUSBSR), launched following a European Parliament initiative. The strategy's three key objectives (save the sea; connect the region; increase prosperity) are implemented through an action plan, revised in 2021. This revision reduced the number of actions, and introduced closer cooperation among stakeholders and a new Baltic Sea strategic point (BSP). According to analysts, the strategy is a success, has brought significant results in diverse areas – including environmental issues – and has increased cooperation and networks across the region. Challenges remain, including monitoring the deliverables and results, which are often neither tangible nor easy to communicate. It remains to be seen if the changes introduced through the new action plan will be sufficient to improve the implementation of the EUSBSR, and if the strategy will seize the opportunities represented by the new rules introduced through the 2021-2027 cohesion policy framework.