OREANDA-NEWS. June 25, 2012. At first, I would like to thank the organizers of this Forum. It has played an important role in the Baltic Sea Region by promoting discussion and helping to draw attention to its overall success.

I am convinced that together we can push the boundaries further. Our region's general economic situation, which is one of the best in European Union, is a good basis for that.

In 2011, an average GDP growth in EU27 was 1,5% according to Eurostat. The corresponding figure in this region was approximately 3,4%. An average unemployment rate in EU27 was 9,7%. But in Germany it is 5,9%, in Sweden 7,5% or in Norway 3,3%. At the level of government debt we compete in another league.

This statistics does not reflect the results of random choices or luck. It is due to responsible macroeconomic policy, reforms to enhance competitiveness and prioritisation of innovation.

However, we still have quite a bit of work to do. I would highlight two priorities: developing sustainable cross-border infrastructure and a well-working digital single market.

Our region’s long-term economic performance will depend on linking individual Baltic Sea countries together, to form true partnerships. I really welcome EU ministers? recent decision to endorse Connecting Europe Facility.

For example, Rail Baltic has a potential to increase freight volumes, enhance the mobility of qualified workforce, help our companies to new markets, and boost economic growth for the whole region.

It's the same story with energy connections. With good connections the Baltic Sea region has the potential to balance the future energy shortages in Central Europe with renewable energy.

Let me emphasize that connections and open market alone cannot achieve security of supply. Decreasing our energy dependency through reduced consumption and increased efficiency is complementary to development of infrastructure and market.

Another crucial area is the digital market. We have highlighted in this Forum over the years its merits for growth and competitiveness, pointed out the need to remove barriers to its development.

We have a good opportunity, if not a duty, to take a lead in cross-border e-services in the EU. We are sufficiently advanced in ICT use within our national borders and should be taking next steps now.

Some cross-border exchange is happening, of course. For example, Finnish or Lithuanian citizens and companies can easily use public e-services in Estonia with their domestic e-identity. But these are only limited examples so far.

Baltic Development Forum is today presenting a study on the most promising areas for digital single market in our region. This report can be a good base to set priorities and a schedule for next steps. In this way, a common Baltic Sea region digital agenda can emerge. In the process, we are supporting a move towards a digital single market in the EU as a whole.

The regional agenda could include priority areas proposed in the BDF study, especially e-procurement and roaming matters. In addition, digital trust services like joint open electronic ID platform and e-invoicing should be on top of the agenda due to their enabling potential. Why not also e-health, to tackle the problem of region’s ageing population.

We should convene a high-level task force to prepare the regional agenda and see for its implementation. We can do this in the framework of EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy or other existing platforms, convening key public and private sector representatives of all Baltic Sea countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,
With all these steps in transportation, energy and digital single market areas we can connect the Baltic Sea region much more closely together and there-by lay the foundation for future common growth.