Let me begin by thanking you for receiving us here in Malmö for this meeting of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. I would also like to commend you for choosing the City of Malmö as the venue of this meeting. It would be difficult to find a better showcase of the many benefits that follows from building bridges between different countries and communities. We could say that this is the essence of what the work of the CBSS is all about – building bridges between the countries of the Baltic Sea Region. We might use politics and diplomacy as a building material, rather than steel or concrete, but that certainly does not diminish the importance of this project for the Baltic Sea region nor lessen the very tangible benefits that ever stronger bridges between our countries can bring to this region.
I am therefore confident in saying that there is no shortage of exciting opportunities when it comes to developing the regional co-operation between the Baltic Sea States. In the fifteen years since the CBSS was established, this region has once again emerged as an economical power house. In fact, with as diverse members as Germany, the Nordic Countries, Poland, the Baltic States and Russia, this region has every potential of being among the most exciting growth areas in the global economy in the years to come. But the key to realising that goal is to keep on working towards the further economical integration of the Baltic Sea Region. Presently, ten of the eleven Member States of the CBSS are part of the same internal market. This has certainly established a good framework for the further economic integration of these ten. We must however establish the modalities for keeping the eleventh, namely Russia, actively engaged in the process of the further economic integration of this region. If we are succeed in keeping our competitive edge against an ever increasing global competition, the best way is to actively tackle those barriers to trade that still prevail in trade and investment between our countries. Here, the CBSS can provide an important venue for co-operation.
While this region has a lot of potential, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that we also face pressing challenges. Protecting our environment is certainly one that is high on our agenda. But here, we can also benefit by sharing our experiences, establishing framework for co-operation and initiating common projects. I am sure that all of us have valuable insights that we could pool together in order to more effectively tackle these challenges. For example, Iceland has gained valuable knowledge and experiences in harnessing its sustainable energy resources, which we are certainly willing to contribute and at least some of you might find of interest.
We must, however, not be blind to the fact that removing barriers and building bridges also brings with it its own problems. In my view, the most pressing one is the appalling practice of trafficking in human beings, especially women and children. The Baltic Region has certainly not been immune to this syndrome of increased communication across countries and borders. Trafficking in human being is an appalling crime that reveals the utter contempt of those who engage in such activities towards human dignity and wellbeing. We must make every effort of rooting out this terrible practice. Better policing will certainly play an important part in the fight against trafficking in human beings. But we must take further steps and also tackle the economical and social roots of this problem, which include gender inequalities and poverty that prevail in some parts of this region. I am convinced that it is in this field the work of the CBSS can accomplish the most in improving the lives of those living in the Baltic Sea Region.
I have identified several important issues and areas where I believe that an enhanced co-operation between the Baltic Sea States can bring very real benefits. But we must also ask ourselves, how can the CBSS best address these issues? In my view, the work of the CBSS would be of most value if we succeed in bringing together the various actors that are tackling these issues in our countries –that is governmental agencies, local governments, businesses, academic institutions and NGO´s. The CBSS has an important role in facilitating co-operation between these various stakeholders in order to exchange views, best-practices, know-how and insights on how to tackle these pressing issues.
Iceland might appear to some to be the odd man out when it comes to regional co-operation within the Baltic Sea Region. After all, you need only to look at the map to see that Iceland doesn’t even lie near the Baltic Sea. However, this literal reading of the map obscures an important geopolitical truth: that as a Nordic Country, Iceland is closely intertwined into the Baltic Sea Region, both politically and economically. This fact is maybe best illustrated today in the active interest that Icelandic investors have taken in this region. Increased Icelandic investments in the Baltic Region did not come about as a result of any co-ordinated effort or intervention from the official level, but simply reflects the huge potential of this region, which Icelandic investors have been quick to spot. There is every reason to be optimistic when it comes to the future of this region, especially if we succeed in building even stronger bridges between our countries.