The Baltic Sea Programme Conference

On behalf of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, I would like to welcome you all to Norway and to the Baltic Sea Programme Conference.

Introduction

I would also like to extend my warmest welcomes to Ms Danuta Hübner, chair of the Committee on Regional Policy in the European Parliament.  I know you have already visited Norway before as Commissioner for Regional Development. A warm welcome also to Mr Knud Andersen, from Bornholm Regional Council and the organisers.

I would also like to thank the Eastern Norway County Network for the effort they have put into the last days conferences. And last - but not least  - I would like to thank the secretariat for the Baltic Sea Programme for their effort to make this conference today a success. 

On Norwegian regional development policy
All European countries and regions have their specific challenges. I find it useful to start with an European perspective to better understand our own situation. Norway is different from all other countries in several ways:

  • Nature: Extensive mountain areas, insular and coastal regions, arctic and sub-arctic climate
  • Settlement: Sparsely populated, weak urban structure
  • Market access: Extremely long distances to main markets

At the same time, we also have strong economic sectors that are part of the global exchange of goods and services. Oil and gas, seafood and sea transport stands out as our strongest clusters of economic activity. Businesses in these sectors are to a large extent located along the coast. The main cities are connected through service deliveries such as engineering and financing. Our economic map is not showing a core-periphery divide, but rather a coast-inland divide. And: regional differences are smaller here than in many other European countries.

The main aims of Norwegian regional development policy are:

  • To sustain the main features of the settlement pattern
  • To secure accessible services throughout the country
  • To contribute to the competitiveness of the business sector

We are working through several sectors of government. Transport infrastructure is important, both on water, on land and electronically – we do now have a broadband coverage of more that 99 % of all households. Institutions for higher education and research are well distributed throughout the regions. The economy of the municipalities is of paramount importance for local service.

The specific regional policy is concentrated on business funding – grants and loans, start-up grants for entrepreneurs, incubators and business “gardens”, support for clusters and for innovation.

I mention this for two reasons. One is to give an introduction to Norwegian regional development policies. The second is to underline the fact that we do have a good economic development in all regions despite our remoteness, our small and sparsely distributed population and our poor accessibility - as compared to other parts of Europe. It is possible to pursue policies for territorial cohesion and competitiveness at the same time! Let this be a small contribution from our side to the present debate on the future cohesion policy.

On Norway’s participation in the Baltic Sea Cooperation
The focus of this conference is on the relationship between the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the future Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014 – 2020.

Norway has been an active partner in the Baltic Sea Cooperation since the beginning.  

Currently 53 Norwegian partners participate in projects financed from the Interreg IVB Baltic Sea Programme – both as project partners and as lead partners.

The EEA and Norway Grants are funds provided by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Their aim is to contribute to reducing disparities in Europe. A major recipient of these funds is the Baltic Sea Region. For the period 2009-2014, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will receive about 780 million Euro in support. This is more than 40 % of the total budget of 1.79 billion Euro for the period. Norway provides 97% of this funding.  For comparison: the annual Norwegian contribution equals the domestic regional policy budget!

As a non-member, Norway is of course not a part of the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. We have, nevertheless, participated in discussions and given active support to the strategy. We are co-operating through the Northern Dimension and in several of the Pan Baltic organisations. And we participate on project level.

It is necessary to work together in this region. There are several significant challenges. The single most important one is the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. I therefore hope that the strategy will help to focus resources on key issues.

The future of the Baltic Sea Cooperation
I would like to see the Baltic Sea Region develop into a well-integrated, well-connected and coherent region. The aim must be to reduce social and economic development divides between its countries and regions.

Norway will continue to be an active partner in the Territorial Cooperation Programmes, including the Baltic Sea Programme. Still, there are issues we would like to discuss. The most important for us is the terms for the participation of third countries.

We would like to have the possibility – as in the present period – to have Norwegian lead partners. This not an issue for the Baltic Sea Programme only. I therefore welcome the support on this issue from the European Parliament, from Ms. Hübner. I understand there is a positive attitude from the European Commission as well. With this support, and with the support and understanding from member countries, I am confident that we together will find a good solution.

Some of you may be aware of the fact that my political party was one of the strongest opponents against Norwegian EU membership. Recent developments have strengthened my belief on this issue. Norway will however contribute to the development of the Baltic Sea region – to the benefit of all participants, including ourselves.

Thank you for your attention.

 

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