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Background and objectives of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region


The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) is an agreement between EU Member States and the European Commission to strengthen cooperation between the Baltic Sea countries. The Strategy has three main objectives: saving the sea, connecting the region and increasing prosperity. It is characterised by the principle of the three ‘NOs’: no new funding, no new legislation and no new institutions.


When Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland joined the EU in 2004, a new situation was created in the Baltic Sea region. With the enlargement in 2004, the Baltic Sea became somewhat of an inland sea in the European Union.

The European Parliament recognised early on the importance of eight out of nine coastal States now being EU members and proposed drawing up a strategy for the Baltic Sea region as far back as 2006. In December 2007, EU heads of state and government encouraged the European Commission to draft an EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, which was later adopted during the Swedish Presidency of the EU.

Rather than new funding, new institutions and new legislation, existing cooperation structures are used to achieve the three objectives. Among such institutions are HELCOM, the Baltic University Programme and the Council of the Baltic Sea States. The adaptation of existing funding includes EU funds.

The Strategy is an internal EU strategy, which means that countries in the Baltic Sea region that are not members of the EU – currently Norway and Iceland – are invited to participate in cooperation formats such as the Northern Dimension.

Cooperation formats also previously existed with Russia and Belarus. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both countries have been suspended from all cooperation formats linked to the Strategy. A joint statement on the matter was drafted on 9 March and is available on the EUSBSR website.

The Strategy includes an action plan divided into 14 policy areas and a smaller number of overall action areas. Each area includes concrete measures with flagship projects that contribute to the implementation of the Strategy.

The Strategy and its projects strengthen and facilitate EU policies in several areas, including the EU Integrated Maritime Policy, the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart and sustainable growth, and Horizon 2020 as regards research and innovation.

Objectives of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region has three main objectives: saving the sea, connecting the region and increasing prosperity.

The Strategy is guided by an action plan, which was updated in January 2021 and in which the objectives are presented. The action plan will be implemented by bringing together public authorities and organisations in cross-sectoral, transnational and multi-level cooperation. It also outlines how the Strategy’s objectives are to be realised through a number of actions and projects. These are divided into a separate structure with what are currently 14 policy areas. These policy areas are wide-ranging, covering everything from transport and energy to culture, tourism and education.

1. Saving the sea

The Baltic Sea’s vulnerability to eutrophication, pollution and overfishing places particularly high demands on application of EU regulations and cooperation in the region. The objective of saving the sea is to make use of various measures to achieve good environmental status and biodiversity in the sea.

This can be achieved by reducing the supply of nutrients and reducing the environmental impact of shipping by making the Baltic Sea region a pioneer region for clean shipping. It can also be achieved by creating conditions to ensure safer shipping by such means as reducing the risk of oil spills in the Baltic Sea and promoting sustainable growth in general.

Four sub-objectives have been identified within the overall objective:

  • The Baltic Sea must have clean water.
  • The Baltic Sea must have rich and healthy biodiversity.
  • The Baltic Sea and its outlets must be trafficked by clean and safe shipping.
  • Better cooperation for a good marine environment.

2. Connecting the region

Large parts of the region are sparsely populated, with great distances to other markets. Transport systems and energy markets have historically been developed independently of each other and are not yet sufficiently interconnected to make the best use of the region’s potential for competitiveness and quality of life. Better cooperation is needed to improve the region’s transport system and security of energy supply.

Linking the region together is also a matter of bringing people closer together. This can be done by such means as student and research exchanges, and increased cooperation to combat human smuggling and other cross-border crime.

Four sub-objectives have been identified within the overall objective:

Good transport conditions in the Baltic Sea region.
The EU’s entire Baltic Sea region must have reliable energy markets.
Connecting people in the region.
Better cooperation in fighting cross-border crime.

3. Increasing prosperity

The Member States that are party to the Strategy can increase their competitiveness and prosperity through better cooperation in research and development, and by deepening and fulfilling the single market and the goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The objective of increasing prosperity covers a broad range of issues, including a social dimension with increased cooperation in areas such as health.

Four sub-objectives have been identified within the overall objective:

  • The Baltic Sea region as a forerunner for fulfilling the single market.
  • The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region contributing to the Europe 2020 Strategy.
  • Improve the region’s global competitiveness.
  • Climate change adaptation and better crisis preparedness.