A day of Plan Bothnia in Riga

08/02/2012 at 13:36 | Posted in event | Leave a comment
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Meeting room

People interested in Plan Bothnia and MSP

On Monday (6.2.2012) the Plan Bothnia project held a public event (“regional stakeholder meeting”) in Riga, Latvia -the home town of the project partner VASAB. The event was attended by 60 participants from ten countries. Besides presentations on recent and overall progress the event included Finnish and Swedish ministry experiences with Plan Bothnia, other projects as well the two consultancy studies commissioned under the project (Baltic MSP “best practices” & “minimum recommendations”). The event was intended to be an information event -enabling discussions around the regional Baltic Sea and European dimensions of the initiative. In my view this aim was reached in an excellent way.

After opening words by the Head of the VASAB Secretariat, Mr. Talis Linkaits, I provided an overview to the progress in the project. This covered the recent drafts of MSP plans discussed at the January project meeting in Stockholm, Sweden. After agreeing on final results the remaining MSP 5 meeting (end of March), the project will mainly prepare for its closing events (see below).

Project Officer Mr. Manuel Frias followed with an introduction to the open and transparent data and publicity practices of the project, including the state of the art Map Service which enables not only viewing -but also downloading -of all project GIS data. Through such tools Plan Bothnia tries to make its own contribution to break the barriers around access to concrete geographic data, which would enable e.g. the civil society to start forming its own opinions on offshore planning.

Sten and Tiina

Sten Jerdenius and Tiina Tihlman

The presentations of the representatives of Finland (Ms. Tiina Tihlman) and Sweden (Mr. Sten Jerdenius) underlined importance of the partnership within the initiative, carried out during the last year between the ca. twenty national and sub-national authorities from Finland and Sweden. The initiative was seen as a unique opportunity for the two countries and sub-national entities to orient themselves in the offshore aspects of MSP for future developments. They also highlighted the specific features of the Finnish and Swedish planning systems in the territorial sea, de-facto ongoing already for some decades, as well as on land.

As a personal note, these excellent presentations pointed indirectly also out the limited number of approaches highlighted in the recent EU related discussions around MSP. As an example the presented Northern European approaches to planning and MSP, with the possible exception of Norway, have received little publicity in EU circles. This is especially striking if compared to the attention on central -European approaches (e.g. Germany, Netherlands, U.K), which are also quite prominent in the regional Baltic Sea discussions. Without dismissing progress or merits of the approaches taken by these powerful countries it is, from a trans-boundary cooperation point of view, a bit disturbing how few perspectives  are available to MSP the countries in Europe, and the Baltic Sea, to start their work in developing MSP.

Dialogue on alternatives is needed as MSP, like any planning, is not about right and wrong approaches but essentially about issues like national interests and politics (foreign and internal), power and access to (or preservation of) resources- needless to say the explosive stuff wars have been fought on. Perhaps somewhat beside the point and heretic in the times of the common European market, but it is still an interesting fact that many of the strong industry players having interests and operating in areas like the offshore Bothnian Sea are not local but international, and commonly of central European origin. An example is the German wind power company WPD -with the major offshore development proposals in Finnish (Korsnäs) and Swedish (Storgrundet, Finngrundet) waters.

The peculiar features of the northern planning systems include the strong role of sub-national authorities (municipalities) and local democracy, as well as the decade-long history of the Ministries of the Environment as the Ministry responsible (fully or partly) for cross-sectoral planning issues. The latter has perhaps enabled better integration of environmental issues to planning, has not prevented a cross-sectoral approach and does seem to have been a problem for economic growth either. Nordic countries are after all among the few European countries with the highest credit ratings.

MartinMatsLachlan

Martin Paastors-MASPNOSE (top), Mats Lindegarth-PREHAB (bottom) and Lachlan Cameron-Seanergy (right)

In addition to such northern perspectives presentations of three projects provided North Sea angles to MSP (MASPNOSE and Seaenergy) as well as highlighted recent progress on habitat modeling (PREHAB). The North Sea examples pointed out good practices but also some of the difficulties which transboundary MSP cooperation face in central Europe. The latter seems to indicate that the Baltic region has truly potential to be a world leading region in terms of trans-boundary MSP cooperation- despite evident differences in national approaches.

The two Plan Bothnia commissioned consultancy studies, conducted by Prof. Jacek Zaucha (PL) and Dr. Bernhard Heidrichs (DE), highlighted certain elements which they have characterised as “best practices” as well as “minimum requirements” of MSP. The reports have turned out as solid reports -even with the caveat that due to the nature of the task given by the project (defining “best” and “minimum”) some of the conclusions are naturally colored by the personal preferences and backgrounds of the authors. The valuable output of these consultants, to be finalised by 15 Feb 2012, will during the next months be considered also by the rest of the Plan Bothnia project partners with a view to agree on some joint input to the Plan Bothnia final report publication.

All in all the discussions during the day in Riga were lively and open -which is always welcome in an emerging issue like MSP where strong national views sometimes pull in different directions. These discussions will continue at the Final events of the Plan Bothnia project, to be arranged 22.May (application for a joint 1,5h Plan Bothnia-MASPNOSE event on transboundary MSP) and 23. May (full day Plan Bothnia final conference). The reader is warmly welcome.

Big thanks goes to VASAB Secretariat staff- Talis, Dzintra and Baiba for arranging a very successful meeting.

Hermanni Backer, Project Manager

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