Rede Heide Simonis – Ostseekonferenz 20./21.10.2001 (engl.)

Speech to be held by
Minister-President Heide Simonis
at the conference of the SPD Land Association of Schleswig-Holstein and the SPD Party Leadership:
“The Social Democratic Way to the Knowledge Society“
Lübeck, 21.10.2001

The Knowledge Society –
a Tool for Developing the Baltic Sea Region?

Strictly check against delivery.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Thank you for your invitation to this congress!
I am glad that with today’s meeting here in Lübeck we have taken a further step towards intensifying cooperation between the social-democratic and socialist parties in the Baltic Sea region. It is a valuable addition to the many instances of mutual assistance by the people who live around the Baltic Sea.

Since he came into office, our Land Chairman Franz Thönnes has been a committed advocate of closer cooperation between political parties in the Baltic Sea region. I consider this important; and I appeal to you, Franz, and all the rest of you, to keep up the good work!

The politicians in our governments and parliaments have been doing this successfully for a long time.
Cooperation and an exchange of opinions and ideas between the political parties must not only take place on a central basis in the Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists.

In long-term and fundamental questions of social democratic policy in Europe, especially, such cooperation is essential.

Our goal of a Europe of the Regions must be reflected in vigorous regional party work across national boundaries. We can learn a lot from each other that way, and bring fresh stimulus into our own party organizations.

Work of this kind confirms my opinion that Baltic Sea cooperation depends above all on collaboration between associations, societies or initiatives and their networks, including the political parties as well – and should not be left only to official contacts between governments and public institutions.

Today I have the pleasure of speaking on two interesting topics concerned with the future: the Knowledge Society and Baltic Sea Cooperation.

There can be no doubt that knowledge has long become a productive force in its own right in our modern world of work, alongside capital, mineral resources and human labour. More and more knowledge is being generated by the sciences, which already include over 6,000 individual disciplines. And then there is the knowledge that arises out of other areas: I am thinking, for example, of basic research carried out in industry.

Leo A. Nefiodow (gesprochen: Nefjodoff, Zukunftsforscher, MPin hat ihn am 18.12.200 bei Gründung Initiativkreis Gesundheit getroffen) and many other researchers have pointed out again and again that knowledge will be one of the driving forces of the great innovations of the future. And the figures go to prove it: the Economy of Ideas is booming. In 1999, 94,067 applications for patents were made in Germany alone. Throughout Europe, and especially in Germany which has little in the way of raw materials, the creation and use of knowledge has long become a key issue of economic prosperity and thus social stability.

Knowledge, know-how, whatever goes on between our two ears: in the long term this is all Europe will have to sell on the international markets. We can only pay high wages if we are highly innovative and unafraid of change. In the long term the present crisis of the New Economy will not alter this trend.

Dear friends,

this is the question we have to answer:
· What must we do in the Baltic Sea region to make use of the economic opportunities the Knowledge Society offers?

We can already see that media skills will play a more and more important role as a fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and arithmetic. Media skills include:
· Selecting and using what the media offer;
· Designing and disseminating media contributions of one’s own;
· Understanding and evaluating media design;
· Recognizing and appraising the influence of the media, and
· Understanding and assessing the conditions for media production and dissemination in a social context.

To my mind the teaching of media skills is a key political objective on the road to the Knowledge Society. Only if our children learn now to use the new techniques efficiently will they later be able to make use of the opportunities the economy offers.

But for all of us, competent handling of the media is a chance to shape our own lives, a chance of greater freedom. In a media-oriented society, critical use of the media is the pre-requisit for deciding consciously and independently how we want to live.

In view of the rapid development of knowledge, lifelong learning is becoming a necessity – for all of us. A good general education at school will no longer serve as a cushion of knowledge on which to rest until we draw our old-age pension. Continued education will be a matter of course. To stand still will be to fall behind.

Access to knowledge will be further simplified by new technologies in the coming years. We shall reach the next stage within the next couple of years with the UMTS networks. UMTS offers a real chance of innovation and jobs of prospect in the Baltic Sea region too.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

“Jobs for all” was the Social Democrats’ slogan against the relentless Manchester Capitalism of the 19th century. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we must write “A Knowledge Society for all” on our banners. On our way into the Knowledge Society we must leave no-one behind. We simply can’t afford to leave a single talent unused.

At present, discussion of the Knowledge Society is too much restricted to the Internet. That tends to obscure the deeper significance of the subject. What we are talking about here is no less than the transition from the industrial society to the Knowledge Society – with all its social consequences. And we have only just started out on this road.

On the way to the Knowledge Society, Baltic Sea cooperation, that has been growing steadily since 1988, will have strategic significance.

Baltic Sea cooperation can claim remarkable achievements over the past ten years. Here are some examples:

· We have built bridges across rifts that divided Europe and the world.

· We have created a common awareness that the Baltic Sea region can only play a role on the European stage if it appears as a unit.

· We have established a network of cooperation on all manner of different levels which is unique in Europe. It embraces old and new member states of the EU, acceding countries, and “EU outs” that are as different as Norway and Russia.

This is an achievement that cannot be praised highly enough. Of course I am glad that Schleswig-Holstein can regard itself as one of the initiators of Baltic Sea cooperation. But that is no reason to rest on our laurels!

On the contrary: the coming enlargement of the EU is facing the Baltic Sea region with a challenge for which it does not (yet) seem to be adequately prepared. An enlargement from 15 to 20 or as many as 27 member states will not only bring the EU more inhabitants, more markets and more economic power.

In some respects bureaucracy has already made the EU virtually unmanageable. An enlargement could well aggravate this. But that must not happen. We need a Europe of the people – not an administrative giant that threatens to swallow us all. The future of Europe lies with the regions.

There are three key tasks that have to be tackled in the Baltic Sea region:

We must not allow new social and economic dividing lines to emerge in the Baltic Sea region in the process of enlargement. Enlargement has a social dimension that is imperative! The tradition of the European welfare state is a valuable asset, even in respect of competition.

Baltic Sea cooperation can give a decisive contribution to improving relations between the EU and Russia. On the level of local and regional co-operation the principle of “stability through cooperation” is becoming a reality. Baltic Sea cooperation is practical peace policy.

That is why I have suggested complementing the “Northern Dimension of the EU” with an action plan for Kaliningrad region to be agreed with by the European Commission and Russia.

And we must plan the “region-building” process in the long term. Only if we work together will the north of Europe be able to assert itself against increasingly fierce competition. In the next twenty years, Baltic Sea cooperation will have to develop from a policy merely related to external relations into “regional domestic and social policy” within the European Union.

The Baltic Sea region is quite capable of this. But if we are to achieve it we must realize that the Knowledge Society is a means to an end. Here are some arguments by way of explanation:

· The Baltic Sea region leads the field in Europe in research, development and trade in the IT and multimedia industries. The standard of training and education around mare balticum is excellent.

· The northern European countries are already leading the way into the Information Society. The internationally renowned “Information Society Index” still ranks Sweden in Place 1 in the world ranking. Norway and Finland have overtaken the USA within a year and are now in second and third place, closely followed by Denmark. Germany still has a need to catch up from its rather modest 13th place.

· The “knowledge workers” will go where they find the best overall conditions. That is where the jobs of the future will be. We have to enhance these conditions on the political level. Those who stop will fall behind. The Baltic Sea region will have the best chances if it holds together.

We have
· a diverse and rich cultural heritage;
· a common history, for example in the Hanseatic League;
· a well-developed university landscape and an excellent vocational training system, measured by international standards;
· the innovative power of a market economy, coupled with a more or less stable degree of social security;
· outstanding political stability, compared with other regions of the world.

So much for the overall conditions, which are excellent, as I said. But how are we to make use of this opportunity to bring the Baltic Sea region concrete advantages valuable in the growing competition of European regions?

Last summer I suggested to the German CBSS presidency (Council of Baltic Sea States) that we might start an “Initiative for a Baltic Sea Knowledge Society”. Cooperation between universities should be intensified and combined with the opportunities of technology transfer.

The CBSS took up the idea at an initial symposium in May 2000. And with a conference of ministers on the subject of a “Northern e-Dimension Action Plan” held in Riga late September the CBSS has set another tangible sign.

This must be accompanied by innovative power, identification and development of subregional strengths such as in the “South-Western Baltic Sea Region”, and contributions to a “learning society”.

A task that can neither be actuated by governments alone nor organized in a “top down” process throughout the Baltic Sea region.
Active contributions by the relevant regions and societies themselves are essential if we are to meet this great challenge. So I am calling upon you to advocate this in your own regions and institutions!

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

as you can see there is a big amount of work ahead of us. The political parties can act as driving forces and sources of ideas for their representatives in the parliaments and governments. That requires far-sightedness, strategies and also visions. Let us work on it together.

The question asked was: “The Knowledge Society – a tool for developing the Baltic Sea Region?” We should answer it with a definite YES, and grasp the opportunities!

And we must tackle the task decisively – together! For the future of the Baltic Sea region is in our hands.