Fo­cus on Trump and Brexit

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Rokas Tracevskis

On June 13-14, the 8th An­nual Fo­rum of the EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion and the 19th Baltic De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum (BDF is a Copen­hagen-based think-tank and net­work­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion) took place in the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs in Ber­lin. Both fo­rums, al­ready tra­di­tion­ally, are held in par­al­lel. Although the min­istry’s build­ing was con­structed as the Re­ichs­bank of Nazi Ger­many and, later, was turned into the head­quar­ters for the So­cial­ist Unity Party, which was the Soviet-dom­i­nated East Ger­many’s rul­ing party, now talks there were cen­tred on the Baltic Sea re­gion’s busi­ness co­op­er­a­tion and preser­va­tion of all the main demo­cratic val­ues-guard­ing the Euro­pean Union.

Talk­ing busi­ness

The EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion was adopted by the Euro­pean Coun­cil in 2009. It was the first EU strat­egy of a par­tic­u­lar re­gion of the EU. Later, the EU strate­gies were adopted for the Danube basin, the Ion­i­cadri­atic area and the Alpine re­gion. The EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion in­volves the EU Mem­ber States in the Baltic re­gion: Lithua­nia, Latvia, Es­to­nia, Fin­land, Swe­den, Den­mark, Poland, and the Baltic Sea coastal lands of Ger­many. Some coun­tries out­side the EU – Nor­way, Rus­sia, Ice­land and Be­larus – also par­tic­i­pate in some projects un­der the Baltic Sea Strat­egy. It deals with is­sues which are too large for the na­tional level and too small for the pan-euro­pean level.

“It was an idea of the EU Mem­ber States to cre­ate the EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion. It started as an eco­log­i­cal ini­tia­tive, be­cause all the states around the Baltic Sea seek to stop pol­lut­ing it. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion sup­ported this ini­tia­tive of the EU Mem­ber States. It is up to the re­gion’s mem­ber states to con­tinue the strate­gic ac­tiv­i­ties or not,” Peter Schenk, of­fi­cial at the Directorate Gen­eral for Re­gional and Ur­ban Pol­icy of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, told The Baltic Times.

Schenk men­tioned two on­go­ing projects un­der the Strat­egy, which he finds es­pe­cially use­ful: CHEMSAR and EFINDOR. The main ob­jec­tive of the CHEMSAR project is to cre­ate uni­form op­er­a­tional plans and stan­dard op­er­a­tional pro­ce­dures in haz­ardous in­ci­dents in the Baltic Sea. The project in­volves part­ners from Es­to­nia, Fin­land, Ger­many and Lithua­nia. EFINDOR is a sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment project, which also pro­motes in­creas­ing biomass pro­duc­tion. The lat­ter project in­volves part­ners from Swe­den, Poland and Lithua­nia. “The Strat­egy is great for busi­ness match­mak­ing,” Vilma Gaubyte, di­rec­tor of the Lithua­nian Biomass En­ergy As­so­ci­a­tion, told The Baltic Times in Ber­lin.

Guido Kem­mer­ling, of­fi­cial of the Ger­man For­eign Min­istry from the Task Force An­nual Fo­rum 2017 of the EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion, dur­ing his brief­ing, told jour­nal­ists that he is es­pe­cially sat­is­fied that Oleg Kravchenko, one of the deputy min­is­ters at the Be­laru­sian For­eign Min­istry and some Rus­sian of­fi­cials ar­rived to the fo­rum. “We have a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem with Rus­sia – no doubt. And there are [the EU] sanc­tions against Be­larus. How­ever, per­haps, we can in­flu­ence the sit­u­a­tion in those coun­tries,” Kem­mer­ling said.

Ac­tu­ally, Rus­sia, un­like Be­larus, showed lit­tle in­ter­est in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Ber­lin fo­rum. “Only very lowlevel of­fi­cials ar­rived to the fo­rum,” Nataliya Smorodin­skaya, se­nior re­searcher of the Moscow-based In­sti­tute of Eco­nom­ics at the Rus­sian Acad­emy of Sciences, said to The Baltic Times.

Kravchenko mostly spoke about the trans­port con­nec­tions of Be­larus with the eight EU Mem­ber States, which par­tic­i­pate in the EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to Kem­mer­ling, Lithua­nia is pre­dom­i­nantly in­ter­ested in the trans­port is­sues at the EU Strat­egy for the Baltic Sea Re­gion fo­rums. “At the fo­rum, we mostly talk about the Baltic Rail­way con­nec­tions, which com­bined with our good lo­gis­ti­cal in­fra­struc­ture, such as air­ports, pro­vides good busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. The fo­rum is a per­fect stage to present our trans­port-re­lated op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing our con­nec­tions with the third coun­tries [non-eu coun­tries], such as a Vik­ing rail­way con­nec­tion for cargo be­tween Lithua­nia, via Be­larus, to Ukraine. The Rail Baltica [rail­way War­sawkau­nas-riga-tallinn-helsinki], which is the main project in the Baltics, will help to con­nect the North Sea area with the Baltic Sea area – it will be a cor­ri­dor from the Nether­lands to the Baltic States. It is also im­por­tant be­cause of the cargo com­ing from China by rail­ways to Lithua­nia,” Lithua­nian Trans­port and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Deputy Min­is­ter Ri­car­das Degutis told The Baltic Times.

Al­gir­das Sakalys, Lithua­nian ex­pert on trans­port is­sues, said that the con­nec­tion with East­ern coun­tries has great per­spec­tives. “How­ever, the East has its specifics – they can cel­e­brate a na­tional day and not be avail­able for 10 days in some Cen­tral Asian coun­tries,” Sakalys told The Baltic Times.

Degutis said that Via Baltica (high­way War­saw-kau­nas­riga-tallinn) was not dis­cussed at the fo­rum. How­ever, he ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion that the cur­rent Pol­ish govern­ment shows in­ter­est in the con­struc­tion of this high­way in the ter­ri­tory of Poland. Un­til now, the road from War­saw to the Lithua­nian bor­der was nick­named by Lithua­ni­ans as the “road of death” due to its poor qual­ity and high rate of ac­ci­dents. “Each day, some 11,000-13,000 ve­hi­cles go from the Pol­ish bor­der to Kau­nas and some 4,000 of them are trucks. 2020-2023 is the tar­get date to build a mo­tor­way-level qual­ity road from War­saw. It would cut the num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties on the road,” Degutis said.

Ro­mualdo Massa Ber­nucci, se­nior of­fi­cial of the Lux­em­bourg-based Euro­pean In­vest­ment Bank pre­sented the busi­ness mood statis­tics at the Baltic De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum in Ber­lin. Ac­cord­ing to his data, Es­to­nian, Lat­vian and, es­pe­cially, Lithua­nian businessmen are the most pes­simistic among all the businessmen of the coun­tries of the Baltic Sea Re­gion. “They point to the dif­fi­culty of find­ing staff with ap­pro­pri­ate skills. They also com­plain about the in­suf­fi­cient ac­cess to fi­nances for their busi­nesses,” he said.

Geopo­lit­i­cal chal­lenges

The geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion has im­pact on busi­ness – no won­der that the Baltic De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum pre­sented its Po­lit­i­cal State of the Re­gion Re­port ti­tled “Ex­ter­nal Earth­quakes, In­ter­nal Adap­ta­tion? Brexit, Trump and the Baltic Sea Re­gion” in Ber­lin. It was writ­ten by sev­eral au­thors from the Baltic Sea re­gion.

“Lithua­nia and Latvia are among the coun­tries that ex­port more to the UK than they im­port (Es­to­nia im­ports more than ex­ports). Fur­ther­more, the UK is the sec­ond-largest net payer in terms of con­tri­bu­tions to the EU’S com­mon bud­get, while the Baltics are still on the re­ceiv­ing end. Stan­dard & Poor’s rank­ings, which an­a­lysed the EU coun­tries most vul­ner­a­ble to the eco­nomic im­pact of Brexit, showed that Lithua­nia is the lead­ing na­tion, due to the pos­si­bil­ity of a de­creased EU bud­get, the num­ber of mi­grants liv­ing in the UK and other fac­tors. Lithua­nia is closely fol­lowed by Latvia, while Es­to­nia took up sixth place af­ter Hun­gary, Poland and Slo­vakia. Ac­cord­ing to other es­ti­mates, the Baltic States could ex­pect a loss of less than 0.5 per cent of GDP up to 2030 due to the Brexit, while the EU av­er­age is slightly higher. Brexit, as well as the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s White Pa­per on the EU’S de­vel­op­ment sce­nar­ios, also caused a wide-rang­ing de­bate on the fu­ture of the EU. The opin­ion among the Baltic States is on a sim­i­lar pro-eu tone. For ex­am­ple, Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite clearly em­pha­sised will­ing­ness to be among the most in­te­grated coun­tries of the EU, as it is a core in­ter­est of Lithua­nia. She also said that the EU needs to adapt to the chang­ing cir­cum­stances and not be afraid of change, even if that means some states leav­ing the union. Lat­vian Pres­i­dent Rai­monds Ve­juo­nis agreed that the EU is strong enough to over­come any dif­fi­cul­ties and that Europe has no other al­ter­na­tives. Es­to­nian Pres­i­dent Ker­sti Kalju­laid also noted that there is no prob­lem with multi-speed Europe if coun­tries work­ing more closely to­gether al­low for oth­ers to join that co­op­er­a­tion,” reads the ar­ti­cle by Linas Ko­jala, Di­rec­tor of the Vil­nius-based East­ern Europe Stud­ies Cen­tre.

He also wrote that ini­tial Lithua­nian fears re­gard­ing the Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency are not so strong now, due to the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­as­sur­ances on the NATO is­sue.

“Brits are lost. The Baltic re­gion should be more proac­tive to­wards the UK. For ex­am­ple, the Brits should be in­vited to the Baltic De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum,” said An­dris Piebalgs, Chair­man of the Lat­vian Unity Party and former EU com­mis­sioner, who took part in the fo­rum’s dis­cus­sion on the re­port.

Some au­thors of the re­port were present in the Ber­lin fo­rum. “Now Ger­many is the leader of the Free World,” said Per Carlsen, re­tired Dan­ish diplo­mat and moder­a­tor of the dis­cus­sion, pre­sent­ing Jana Puglierin, Head of the Al­fred von Oppenheim Cen­tre for Euro­pean Pol­icy Stud­ies at the Ger­man Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, who was one of the au­thors of the re­port.

“For us, Germans, it was a dif­fi­cult awak­en­ing,” Puglierin said about Brexit and Trump’s vic­tory. She added that, af­ter Trump’s elec­tion, anti-amer­i­can feel­ings are strong in Ger­many, but she did not find those feel­ings in Poland and the Baltic States. Puglierin ac­cented that Ber­lin prefers to lead through in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially the EU, and, any­way, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel re­mains faith­ful to the Trans-at­lantic Al­liance.

Ag­nieszka Lada, Se­nior An­a­lyst at the War­saw-based In­sti­tute of Public Af­fairs and one more au­thor of the re­port, told the au­di­ence in Ber­lin that the cur­rent Pol­ish govern­ment is ide­o­log­i­cally close to the Bri­tish Con­ser­va­tives and Trump. There­fore, Poland, un­like Ger­many and the Baltic States, wants “a weaker EU”. How­ever, she added that Poland shares with the Baltic States the same view on the re­gion’s se­cu­rity mat­ters.

“Brits are lost. The Baltic re­gion should be more proac­tive to­wards the UK. For ex­am­ple, the Brits should be in­vited to the Baltic De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum,” said An­dris Piebalgs, Chair­man of the Lat­vian Unity Party and former EU com­mis­sioner, who took part in the fo­rum’s dis­cus­sion on the re­port.”

Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter sig­mar Gabriel ad­dresses the 8th An­nual Fo­rum of the EU strat­egy for the Baltic sea Re­gion in Ber­lin, which now is de­scribed by some as the new cap­i­tal city of the Free world.

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