Baltic Sea Action Summit – political pushover

Måndag, 15. Februari 2010     0 kommentti(a)
Maria Jokela
Internationell miljö- och naturresurspolitik forsknigsprogram
Baltic Sea Action Summit’s governmental commitments achieved wide-ranging publicity. The overall impression was disappointing: old promises were mainly repeated. Although Finnish and Polish commitments received the most positive feedback, I would rather highlight the importance of the Swedish commitment to double its financial support for the HELCOM from 4,5 to 9 million euros.

Swedish commitment got to the heart of the Baltic Sea protection problematique. International agreements are always pecuniary by nature and this applies also to the environmental protection agreements. Baltic Sea desperately needs a legally binding protection agreement but none of the Baltic Sea states have shown a true commitment towards this. Why?

HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan, signed in 2007, was first seen as a positive sign of concrete political action. It was also hoped that it would lead the way to a binding protection agreement. So far, this has not happened, because the Action Plan contains two weaknesses. Firstly, it merely concentrates on ecological requirements whilst ignoring economical realities. Secondly it is based on an idealistic “polluter pays” assumption.

As a result, the implementation costs of the Baltic Sea Action Plan are divided extremely unequally between Baltic Sea states. Poland and Russia are the biggest polluters, but due to anti-clockwise water cycle, the worst pollution effects fall on Finnish and Swedish shores. Similarly, Russian and Polish investments to combat eutrophication would benefit Finland and Sweden the most.

In the current economical situation it is rather unrealistic to expect that Poland, Russia or any other southern Baltic transition state would invest in economically unequal and expensive implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. On the contrary, it could end up in political suicide in a country where the state’s coffers are empty, unemployment rates are rising and the overall environmental awareness is low.

As a solution, I would turn towards Finland and Sweden. Baltic Sea protection demands a strong political trend-setter and this position was open at the Baltic Sea Action Summit. Unfortunately none of the states showed willingness to assume this position. However, I see Swedish commitment as a promising sign. When we talk about an effective and realistic Baltic Sea protection agreement, we have to start to talk about money. In short, we need to find economically equitable ways to distribute protection costs.

At the Action Summit, the Finnish leaders renewed their commitment to increase protection actions in the Finnish Archipelago. As such it was an important commitment and obviously it is necessary to clean up your own backyard before you can demand others to do so, but as the host of the event Finland could have done much more! Finnish leaders could have taken the strong trend-setter position by highlighting the true problem of the Baltic Sea protection politics: money. Baltic Sea needs a determined leader with political courage, but unfortunately Finland doesn’t seem to have it.

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