The issue of macro-regional cooperation has grown in importance in recent years. Within the EU macro-regions are now seen as having the potential to make a significant contribution to cohesion policy and the achievement of comparable levels of development across Member States. Currently, the best example of macro-regional cooperation is the Commission's proposed strategy for the Baltic Sea (launched on 10 June 2009).
The EESC supports the aims embodied in the four pillars of the Baltic Sea Region strategy, to make it a prosperous, safe and secure place, an environmentally sustainable place, and an attractive and accessible place. The EESC welcomes the strategy’s Action Plan which comprises 15 priority actions each of which will be the responsibility of a Baltic Member State to implement.
The EESC applauds the comprehensive consultation process that preceded the finalisation of the strategy and the role played in the process by the social partners and stakeholders, and re-emphasises the crucial role of organised civil society in the implementation. The EESC further reaffirms its support for the establishment of a Baltic Sea Civil Society Forum that would help to embed civil society in the evolution of the strategy.
The Baltic Sea Region strategy presents both strengths and weaknesses. Its major strengths are that it is comprehensive in its intended coverage and that it will be reviewed regularly by the Commission and the European Council. Its weaknesses stem from its complexity and from governance issues surrounding its implementation. The EESC strongly believes that every effort should be made to simplify the governance arrangements for the implementation of the strategy.
In view of the fact that the Baltic Sea Region strategy will operate for several years there is a compelling case for setting up a permanent group within the EESC to ensure that the committee can participate effectively in what may become the template for macro-regional cooperation across the European Union.