Stockholm International Water Institute

Collective action in the baltic sea region options for strengthening implementation of the environmental pillar of the eu strategy for the baltic sea region

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In October 2009, the European Council adopted the European Union (EU) Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region with the ambition to launch a region-wide collective effort to achieve a sustainable environment, enhance the region’s prosperity, increase the region’s accessibility and attractiveness, and ensure safety and security throughout the region (EC 2009, European Council 2009). This marks the first time that the EU has developed a comprehensive ”macro” strategy addressing both the environment and economic growth issues across multiple sectors in a particular geographic region. The strategy’s most pressing objective is restoring and protecting the Baltic Sea environment, given the sea’s highly degraded condition and its importance as a regional public good with environmental, economic, and cultural significance in the region.

This paper provides an overview of the region and the environmental and political challenges it faces. Secondly, it describes the EU’s collective approach to addressing those challenges in the new EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, focusing on the environmental pillar, “Making the Baltic Sea Region an Environmentally Sustainable Place”. Thirdly, the paper provides an assessment of the legal framework related to the environment and water resources into which the strategy is placed relative to national law, EU law, international law, and some illustrative third party arrangements with non-EU member countries in the wider Baltic Sea region.

The paper concludes that the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is innovative in its approach to using the EU structure to unite a ”macro region” across multiple sectors based on four pillars: environmental sustainability; prosperity; accessibility and attractiveness; and safety and security. More than a year into its implementation, however, the strategy has not fully tackled difficult coordination, planning and implementation challenges inherent in following the large number of laws and operating within multiple layers of governance mechanisms. Instead, the strategy takes foremost a programmatic approach based on the implementation of multiple projects rather than a policy and regulatory oriented approach. To achieve long-term impacts in line with the strategy’s objectives, a dual approach of tackling governance issues (institutional reform, policy, and the regulatory framework) in parallel with the current programmatic approach is recommended.

Four specific recommendations are offered related to the governance framework on how the member states and EU institutions might move forward with implementation of the strategy’s environmental pillar: 1) undertake an institutional assessment to clarify the roles of existing Baltic Sea governance bodies and institutions, their linked legal obligations, and arrangements with the EU’s external partners in the Baltic Sea region (Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia); 2) establish a baseline Monitoring and Evaluation System with a cause-effect relationship to steer the implementation of the Environmental Pillar in the context of the EU Baltic Sea Strategy; 3) undertake a legal assessment of key EU Directives, priority HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) actions, and targeted provisions of international law and their status of implementation; and 4) strengthen existing EU Directive implementation through solid regional coordination mechanisms.

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