30 Years Since 1989: CBSS Regional Responses to Global Challenges

Bernd Hemingway,
Deputy Director General,
Council of the Baltic Sea States

Natalia Skripnikova,
Core Team Intern Assistant,
Council of the Baltic Sea States

In Northern Europe regional cooperation became an important part of international relations after the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a new political situation and triggered the launch of several region-building projects. One of the new regional actors became the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in 1992.

Even though the Baltic Sea has always been an important meeting point of Western and Eastern European countries, during the Cold War it was mainly perceived as the sea. However, political changes of early 1990s generated a reconsideration and Baltic Sea turned into a common agenda for cooperation and a subject of constructing a sense of a new commonness.

During the following more than 25 years the CBSS became one of the main actors providing international cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. The CBSS is an inter-governmental organisation consisting of twelve members (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the European Union). Since, the creation of the CBSS the region has gone through a remarkable change. Today eight countries are EU Member States and two countries are EFTA members (Norway and Iceland). European integration processes have transformed the geopolitical situation in the region. The Baltic Sea almost became an inland sea of the EU. In the given circumstance the CBSS had to adapt to new realities and continue working on building trust and collaboration in the region.

CBSS activities engage different actors like: governmental, non-governmental, businesses, social institution and academia.

In order to adapt to changing situations the CBSS has moved from a policy discussing organisation to be also a project-oriented actor. Today the CBSS utilises a multi-stakeholder approach in its activities. CBSS activities engage different actors like: governmental, non-governmental, businesses, social institution and academia. In applying such an approach, the CBSS provides a common governance enterprise and improves the efficiency of dealing with public issues. Bringing actors of different types together showed a greater performance in discussing and working with new and complex issues in the transnational environment. At operational level the CBSS follows the international agenda and translates global challenges into the regional context. In the framework of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the CBSS initiated the report “Baltic 2030: Bumps on the Road” (2018), which explores the most pressing challenges for the Baltic Sea Region and provides a macro-regional overview on all 17 SDGs. The work of strengthening children’s rights focusses on promoting a non-violent childhood, protecting children on the move as well as the so called “Barnahus” by ensuring child-friendly legal and social procedures and services, securing that children are heard throughout in the process of identification, referral and when finding a solution. The CBSS efforts in providing a platform for enhanced cooperation on civil security and climate adaptation in the region resulted in its international recognition as an important player in the implementation of the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Addressing a cross-border crime of global nature such as trafficking in human beings, the CBSS engaged municipalities of the region and provided tools for local actors to deal with cases of human trafficking.

The changes in the Baltic Sea Region also encouraged the discussions on the future role of the CBSS in the region. Consequently, the Foreign Ministers of the CBSS Member States and the High Representative of the European Union established the CBSS Vision Group in Reykjavik on 20 June 2017. The aim of the CBSS Vision Group was to elaborate recommendations to maintain and strengthen the role of the Council of the Baltic Sea States towards 2020 and beyond. The Vision Group included independent representatives from the 11 CBSS Member countries plus the European Union. The result of the Vision Group led to a report presented at the Stockholm Ministerial on 18 June 2018. The report has seven key recommendations regarding the future role of the Council of the Baltic Sea States ensuring political dialogue and efficient project implementation in the region. The Member States expressed their continued support for the mission of the CBSS concluded in the Stockholm Declaration 2018. They encouraged the incoming presidencies “to drive the reform efforts with a view of reaching political agreement on a substantial roadmap for reform of the CBSS, with the goal of reaching tangible progress by 2020”.

The Member States expressed their continued support for the mission of the CBSS concluded in the Stockholm Declaration 2018.

The experiences of the Council of Baltic Sea States illustrate how a regional actor has managed to adapt to shifting realities and global and local challenges in the region. Closer arrangements for practical cooperation in combination with a broader participation in political dialogue have proven to be fruitful measures to proceed with a productive regional cooperation.

The Vision Group Report is available:

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