The Commission will today publish its Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region which is aimed at providing the region with a policy framework delivering better results for the EU citizen.
Why the Baltic? Well, on one level it's an obvious choice. The institutional system in the region is packed with international and interregional organisations, like the Nordic Council, the CBSS, HELCOM, the BSSSC, the UBC, the BEAC and a whole host of other acronyms. Indeed, you might ask, if the Baltic is so good at being organised across national borders, why does it need a strategy at all?
The answer is twofold. Firstly, having so many organisations in one region can be a disadvantage when it comes to agreeing on actual action. All these organisations have slightly different focuses, subtly different priorities. Getting them all pulling in the same direction at the same time is none too easy.
The second issue is often a consequence of the first. Since it is difficult to get everyone to agree on a joint approach, it is all too common that the discussions do not lead to sufficient action on the ground. And this is what has been seen in the Baltic. For all the talk and broad, political agreement, the environmental state of the Baltic Sea itself keeps worsening, the transport links do not improve sufficiently quickly, and economic development is still divergent.
The Baltic Sea Strategy offers the chance to better co-ordinate what is already in place and to guide future co-operation work more effectively - in short, to provide the overall framework into which actions and projects can be fitted and organised coherently.
Boiled down to these basics, it's a remarkably straightforward and sensible idea. The uncharitable might ask why it took so long to get around to it, but the role of the Commission in the process provides the response to that. The Member States were unable to come up with this together and needed the Commission as an impartial player to take the lead role in co-ordinating the work. In this, it can be seen as an expansion of the role the Commission often plays in the cross-border programmes in the region. And it could be the start of something much bigger - other regions in Europe are watching with much interest.