On 9 December, as requested by the Council, the EU Commission published its fourth implementation report of the EU macro-regional strategies. The report covers the period from mid-2020 to mid-2022. The biannual report from the EU Commission presents a wide range of results, challenges and opportunities on all 14 policy areas of the EUSBSR.
Read highlights from the report below. For a more in-depth view of the strategy implementation, see the full report, accompanied with a more elaborate staff working document.
EUSBSR – the context, results, and opportunities
Over a decade, the multi-level and cross-sectoral cooperation model of the EUSBSR has added value by connecting people, creating networks improving coordination, and enhancing synergies in the region. The strategy has provided significant results in areas such as innovation, safety, maritime emergencies, and pollution in the Baltic Sea.
The revised Action Plan of 2021 further aligns the EUSBSR with the European Green Deal and the objective of making the EU climate neutral by 2050 by requiring that all 14 policy areas consider EU climate and environment objectives. As the EUSBSR continues to evolve, the policy areas are becoming increasingly interlinked, and their scope server several objectives. This is particularly true for the twin green and digital transition.
Since February 2022, Russian’s war of aggression in Ukraine has severely affected the geopolitical situation in the region, as well as the policy context in which the EUSBSR is carried out: All cooperation with Russia and Belarus is suspended, energy security is moving up on the agenda in the response to the global energy market disruption, and the actions on the social change-related issues have faced drastic challenges when a total of 3.03 million people entered Poland from Ukraine only during the period of 24 February to 29 April.
Interreg Baltic Sea Programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), continues to be the most utilised funding source for projects under the EUSBSR. Other important funding sources include the cross-border cooperation programmes, also funded by the ERDF, as well as other EU-funded instruments, such as Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon 2020 and Life, and some EU funds directly managed by the Commission. The regional and national cohesion policy programmes in the region, as well as the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, are also sources of funding, although there is still potential room for increasing the funding from these programmes.
EUSBSR – The way forward
During its 13 years of existence, the EUSBSR has institutionalised cooperation networks and is now shifting from being a cooperation platform to a hub for identifying common challenges and common solutions for the region. In general, the stakeholders perceive that while being a key challenge, the pandemic also presented an opportunity to rethink the actions promoting the green and low carbon transition.
It is evident that the efforts to integrate refugees need to be reinforced in the region. The 2021 Action Plan provides several possibilities to support the integration, especially under Policy Areas Health, Education, Innovation, and Spatial Planning.
A more systematic approach to the embedding, i.e. aligning the new cohesion policy programmes with the EUSBSR and creating adequate mechanism to facilitate contribution, is expected once the Baltic Sea Strategy Point, a support structure established in October 2022, becomes fully operational.