The Baltic Sea needs EU money

Picture: Metsähallitus

Eveliina Ruokolainen, Elli Räsänen

The Baltic Sea has many nicknames. One of them is “the most polluted sea in the world”.

Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics Markku Ollikainen from the University of Helsinki knows the term.

– Yes, you could say so. Compared to any other sea in the world, average depth of the Baltic Sea is low, only 58 metres. And that is one of the things that makes it so vulnerable.

The Baltic Sea is losing its quality and biodiversity due to excessive discharges of nitrates and phosphates – from agriculture, industry and domestic sources. These flow into the sea, causing eutrophication.

And because of the sea is so low, it takes more than 30 years for the waters to change completely.

Meanwhile many of the species of the sea die.

EU´s own inland sea

As well as the most polluted sea in the world, the Baltic Sea is also called as “EU´s own inland sea”. This started in 2004 when Estonia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania joined the European Union.

EU was already working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea as member of The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). However, The EU´s interest towards the Baltic Sea increased in 2004, says Finnish Ministerial Cousellor Ulla Kaarikivi-Laine from Department of the Marine Protection of Ministry of the Environment.

– Now only Russia was outside of the European Union from the Baltic countries. So EU started to have political interests in The Baltic Sea region.

Ever since, the species of the Baltic Sea could have take advantage of the situation. Or at least tried to.

– EU is a significant actor also in the field of the protection of the Baltic Sea. And it´s totally fair that we try to take advantage of EU´s economical and political possibilities. We should use the funds of the EU as much as possible.

How much is enough?

Traditionally the EU has been more interested in the Mediterranean Sea than the Baltic Sea.

Ollikainen believes that the reason for this is that every member state has its own agendas.

– The protection of the Baltic Sea is not a topic in Germany. So raising awareness and interest on the matter in this particular country is also important.

For example, from EU´s annual budget goes over 200 million euros on the cooperation of the Mediterranean Sea region. In 2010 The Baltic Sea region got only 20 million from the budget.

And it was related to a new program, Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.

In 2009 adopted strategy aims at a clean Baltic Sea and an economically strong and prosperous Baltic Sea region.

This year only 2, 5 million euro is budgeted for the Baltic Sea strategy. That is quite a small amount compared to the overall budget – 141,8 billion in commitment appropriations and 126,5 billion in payments.

However, Kaarikivi-Laine believes that the Baltic Sea –strategy is still an example of that how the Baltic Sea could profit from the EU.

– It´s a new mechanism and we are still testing it. But I think that the EU really is aiming to channel the funds and to make sure that everything that is agreed is going to happen in real life.

Ollikainen believes that little by little the focus is shifting from the Mediterranean Sea to the Baltic Sea.

– When the value of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea grows within the EU, we gain attention to the problems of the Baltic Sea.

How about Russia?

In addition to paying bills, EU can help the Baltic Sea and its species by regulating laws.

– All the other countries around the Baltic Sea except Russia, are restricted to EU´s legislation. And that is notable. If all these regulations would execute in all these countries in a same way, even that would impact forcefully to the Baltic Sea, says Kaarikivi-Laine.

Ollikainen agrees, almost.

– Certain EU regulations are important. One case of those is the urban wastewater directive and its possible renewal.

Only exception would be Russia. Because Russia isn´t part of the EU, the EU regulations doesn´t restrict them. And still it pollutes like all other countries do.

But Ollikainen is confident. He believes that Russia is going to a right direction.

– Especially the attitude of the leaders has improved. As an example they are building the wastewater purification plant to Kaliningrad on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

So far all the wastewater of over 400 000 citizens have poured directly to the Baltic Sea.

Yeah, that could be one reason why it´s called as “the most polluted sea in the world”.

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One Response to “The Baltic Sea needs EU money”

  1. peterverweij Says:

    Good story, detailed and accurate, Good use of sources and links. Show the EU perspective, but I miss a bit details about the EU approach. INteresting to notice the switch from Mediterranean to Baltic and the role of Russia. Is Finland going to push this issue in the EU?

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