Rede Min. Rohwer – Ostseekonferenz 20./21.10.2001 (engl.)

by Dr Bernd Rohwer
Minister for Economics, Technology and Transport
given at the
Northern Network of Social Democrats Baltic Sea Conference
on 20 October 2001 in Lübeck

Baltic Networks for Economic Progress

I. Introduction
II. The Baltic Sea Region as an Economic Zone
III. Building an Infrastructure: Transport as an Example
IV. Co-operation a Key Factor: STRING as an Example
V. Fields of Activity of Baltic Sea Co-operation
VI. Baltic Sea Co-operation of the Future
VII. A Common Identity

Sperrfrist: Redebeginn

Es gilt das gesprochene Wort


► Members of Parliament
► Ministers
► Politicians and guests from the entire Baltic Sea Area.

I. Introduction

I too would like to extend to you a warm welcome. I am especially delighted that this Congress is being held here in Schleswig-Holstein. In the Land, that has continuously provided significant impulses for the development of the entire Baltic Sea region.

As most of you will already know, it was the former Prime Minister Björn Engholm who made a point of always putting the Baltic Sea region on the political agenda. Gerd Walter is still known to many of you as “Mr. Baltic Sea” and Heide Simonis continues this direction in Baltic Sea policies with great success to the present day.

With the foundation of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in 1992, Baltic Sea co-operation also acquired an institutional framework.

Nowadays the Baltic Sea, as an economic and cultural area, is an essential part of our policies and economic strategies.

All ten countries bordering the Baltic Sea expect new impulses for the development of the economy, the sciences and the arts from a joint and integrated Baltic Sea region.
Friedrich Schiller says in The Bride of Messina that “The sea is an area of hope.” That makes a good motto for this conference, as well as for our future Baltic Sea policies.

II. The Baltic Sea Region as an Economic Zone

Our hopes, Ladies and Gentlemen, are as well founded as they can be. The Baltic Sea region is experiencing – centuries after the time of the Hanseatic League, in which Lübeck played a central part – a second economic florescence.

This is by no means just political rhetoric, but rests on patent facts:

· In the past year alone, growth rates in seven out of the ten Baltic Sea states stood at a figure significantly higher than the EU average (3.4 %).

· Particularly the EU-accession states Estonia with 6.9 %, Latvia with 6.6 % and Poland with 4.1 % have shown strong signs of growth in the year 2000 – and that is only a foretaste of the large potential that we expect from our neighbours in the East.

· Finland too deserves special mention here, as it has for the first time succeeded to be no. 1 in the ranking of business locations of the Swiss Forum for World Economy. Among the 75 national economies that were studied, Finland was judged to have the highest potential for growth. Finland is praised especially for its strong political institutions, its focus on technology and its successful macro-economical management – a fantastic result, it has to be said!

· Finland is also an example of a further bonus of the Baltic Sea region: new cultural-technological advances, like the internet and information and communication technologies, have come to be widespread both in companies and in private households in the Nordic countries. They were pioneers in this area and are still setting standards today.

· Furthermore English is well established as the dominant international business language in the Baltic Sea area, and I am pleased to say that this is particularly true of the states bordering the Baltic Sea in the east. This is an important precondition for working in global markets.

· And finally, in the economic area Baltic Sea alone there are 50 million consumers living in the direct catchment area of the sea. The population of the bordering countries as a whole exceeds this figure many times over. 50 million consumers with a generally high level of education. Here again it is the Scandinavian countries who have made an investment beyond average in educational institutions. But also the high level of technical education in the Eastern countries represents a large potential for development.

Thanks to these positive factors, world-famous economic theorists – like Professor Rüdiger Soltwedel of the Kieler Institut für Weltwirtschaft [Kiel Institute of World Economy] – speak of “excellent prospects of growth” in the Baltic Sea region, a region in which, after all, 2.3 % of the world’s trading is handled.

We must, however, keep up the co-operative effort, if we want to see the Baltic Sea becoming the “Boom Region” of the future.

This applies to the areas of transport, technology transfer, science and economic development, as much as it does on the cultural and social level. Our goal must be to set up infrastructures in all these areas that will lay the foundation for dynamic economic development.

III. Building an Infrastructure: Transport as an Example

Take transport as an example. We expect a rise in the streams of goods in the Baltic Sea area of over 60 percent (basis 1997).

We need, therefore, new motorway connections with a high capacity for conveying traffic. Just to mention the Via Baltica towards Poland, or the A 20 motorway, the first section of which we will be able to open on the soil of Schleswig-Holstein, close to Lübeck, this coming December.

Especially here in northern Europe, we should also put emphasis on the “floating motorways” of the sea. Transport of goods by sea is both environmentally friendly and economical.

A special project that we are currently planning in co-operation with our Danish neighbours is the fixed Fehmarn Belt link. Whether it will be a bridge or a tunnel, it is the determined wish of the Land Government of Schleswig-Holstein to make a reality of the crossing from Fehmarn to Lolland by the year 2012. And we are glad for the strong support for this project from Denmark, Sweden and the EU.

In this way the two metropolitan areas of Hamburg and Copenhagen are moving closer together, constituting a strong area from which Schleswig-Holstein and the Øresund region also will profit.

The international air traffic node Copenhagen as the central airport for the Baltic Sea region is equally very important. It is a model example that shows we have to link sub-regions more closely together in order to be successful on the global markets.

IV. Co-operation a Key Factor: STRING as an Example

This brings us to the subject of co-operation. The economic area Baltic Sea needs not just one power unit, but several, in order to move forward.

We need sub-regions with their own dynamics and their own economic characteristics. And we need a closely woven web of co-operations between these sub-regions, in order to promote the “Boom Region Baltic Sea” as a whole.

One sub-region doubtless, and a significant driving force, is the region of the south-western Baltic Sea, and the STRING project (Southwestern Baltic Sea Transregional Area Inventing New Geography). The partners involved are the Copenhagen metropolitan area, the Swedish region of Skåne, the regions of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein – overall, a region with almost eight million inhabitants.

STRING wants to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and above all co-operation.

– We are supporting joint projects in the health sector and in biotechnology.

– We are promoting networks in the STRING region to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to have access to E-business.

– We are working on a virtual campus where Danish, Swedish and German students, as well as interested citizens, will be able to attend joint courses.

– And we are also starting exchange programmes for students, schoolchildren, sportsmen and sportswomen and company employees. As there is nothing to replace direct contact person to person.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, we in Schleswig-Holstein and in Hamburg – as well as in the whole of the STRING region – have got things to contribute to the development of the Baltic Sea area.

– In Hamburg and Copenhagen/Malmö we have two metropolitan areas with international functions, representing nodal points for international traffic with their harbours and airports.

– We have a high level of competence in technological areas. In biotechnology, as in surface technology, and information and communication technology as well, there is excellent know-how throughout the STRING region.

– In this context also the outstanding universities in the Øresund region, in Hamburg, Kiel and Lübeck need to be mentioned.

– We also have rural areas in the region offering a high quality of life which can play an important part in the development of the tourist industry.

In short, I am convinced that the STRING region will develop in future to become a powerful driving force for Baltic Sea co-operation, and one of the most successful regions in Europe.

V. Fields of Activity of Baltic Sea Co-operation

Biotechnology is one of the branches that are particularly significant for the Baltic Sea region. No one can overlook Medicon Valley in the Øresund region, the fifth biggest biotechnological site in Europe.

Already there are close associations with the Federal States of Northern Germany, which have created a joint action group in the field of Life Sciences. It would be desirable to achieve similar co-operation and exchange of scientific information in the entire Baltic Sea region.

Another sector important for the Baltic Sea states is the IT-economy. Schleswig-Holstein was pioneering in the development of an IT-economy, and the Scandinavian countries have given us an example how to disseminate information and communication technology successfully.

Seeing that the IT trade sector is particularly hard hit by the current weakness of the global economy, it is unfortunately the most innovative regions that suffer most from the effects of this phase. Added to which, the internet is still in its first infancy, and E-business is not yet as widely established as it should be.

All the same, I am firmly convinced that the internet and E-business will in future be the horses that draw the plough of economic progress. The number of mobile phone users in Germany had already by the end of 2000 overtaken the number of land-line connections, 43 % of the German population over the age of 14 make use of the Internet, by the middle of 2002 there will be 5.2 million German users added to these figures – and in face of these statistics, who can seriously claim that the IT-economy has not got a future?

I claim: the future of the Baltic Sea region is closely linked with the development of the knowledge and information society.

In Schleswig-Holstein, too, a quite lively IT scene is getting organised. I wished that the IT business community would take advantage, even more than they have done hitherto, of the opportunities of co-operation in the Baltic Sea area.

VI. Baltic Sea Co-operation of the Future

But let us speak today not just of the growth potential of the Baltic Sea regions, but also of their deficiencies and of concepts for a new Baltic Sea policy which reaches far beyond the level of co-operation we have achieved today.

– Certainly there exist a great number of contacts on the political leadership level; and amongst representatives of the business community and high-profile scientists there are networks for the sharing of knowledge. The Chambers of Industry and Commerce as well as the Landesbank Kiel are very active in this field.

But there is still, in my view, too little exchange of staff at working level, too little exchange of qualified staff and too few contacts of small and medium-sized companies in the Baltic Sea region.

In this area, Ladies and Gentlemen, what is called for is a wealth of imagination, to extend the circle of the active participants in the Baltic Sea region and knit the network of co-operative activities more closely together.

– This means too that we must make closer alliances on an organisational and institutional basis than we have done hitherto; and this applies to all levels.

This applies, for example, to such infrastructure operations as the harbours. Local thinking is not in place here. But an optimum distribution of tasks all around the Baltic Sea is needed. To achieve this is could be useful that harbours merge or hold shares of the companies mutually.

The same applies for companies from the private economy. I could imagine that we pass on from a phase of friendly encounters to a phase of useful joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions.

The Landesbank Schleswig-Holstein with its strategic engagements all around the Baltic Sea offers an example. There have to more initiatives of this kind – in other branches and into all directions.

Let us take the area of research. I know that scientific expertise in the Baltic Sea region is at an extremely high level. But I am equally firmly convinced that it could be still higher, if our research institutes would co-operate even more closely.

I wish that we in this region could create the conditions needed to rouse the interest of leading researchers world-wide, so that they no longer need to emigrate to America. And I wish too that in the next ten years some Nobel Prize may be awarded to researchers from our Baltic Sea region.

– Another area where we need to blaze new trails is that of the promotion of the business location and economical development. On the wide stage called “World Economy” we cannot afford to do marketing only for our small sub-region.

What we need then are concepts to market ourselves jointly beyond the borders of our Länder or nations. Why, after all, should there not be joint presentations at trade fairs on other continents?

And why should we not, also in Europe, make a stronger impression as a unified force? I invite you, most warmly, to think about this together!

– The European Union plays a key role in Baltic Sea co-operation. EU-funding has a strong influence.

A barrier to more co-operative ventures here exists, nonetheless, in the technical administrative requirements that the EU demands in order to grant funding.

It is not acceptable that more and more personnel should have to be involved in administrative tasks in order to guarantee the financial soundness of EU-supported projects.

The EU must not burden the regions with increasing administrative tasks. The worst thing that could happen to us would be that no more funding will be requested from the EU because the regions can no longer afford to do so.

VII. A Common Identity

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have shared with you my conception of the “Boom Region Baltic Sea”, and I have likewise attempted to cast a light on the potential strengths and deficiencies to be seen in the region.

What we must not forget in the midst of these considerations is that we – as citizens of the Baltic Sea region – need a feeling of our being in this together. It is human individuals in the end, now and always, who must carry the ideals of the Baltic Sea region in their hearts and bring them to realisation.

I wish to see a strong, shared identity come into being among the inhabitants of the Baltic Sea regions – a uniting feeling, and with that too a feeling of trust which will make co-operative ventures between companies and researchers a real possibility.

I am just naming one example: During this year’s Schleswig-Holstein music festival, which most of you will now, the country focus was Finland. This was a large success. Here in Lübeck we have seen highly praised concerts with Finnish artists. The festival attracted 120.000 visitors altogether.

This is only one proof of the fact that we in the Baltic Sea region have a common cultural basis and that there is a high level of interest for our neighbouring countries.

But I wish too, that we may really get to know our countries:

· that distant regions like East Botnia in Finland or Värmland in Sweden may be as familiar to an inhabitant of Schleswig-Holstein as Ostholstein or Nordfriesland are.

· And I wish too that such fascinating cities as Copenhagen, Hamburg, Lübeck and Rostock may become as popular for the people of the Eastern Baltic Sea regions as Turku, Riga, Tallinn or St. Petersburg are in the west.

For all the aims I have described, social democracy is the ideal force. We, the Social Democrats, know, that in peaceful and prosperous civil societies each citizen needs to have the right to education and knowledge. – This is equally true for the right to security. And we take care that these rights are granted wherever we have political responsibility.

We, the Social Democrats, will contribute in a joint effort to the Baltic Sea region being a region of social peace and economical well-being.
Schleswig-Holstein, ladies and gentleman, will continue to be a driving force for Baltic Sea co-operation.
Schleswig-Holstein is open for a new quality in Baltic Sea co-operation.
I hope that this conference will be able to insert new meshes into the net of Baltic Sea co-operation.

I thank you for your attention.