Baltic Sea transport issues require constructive input from Russia
Russia has a central position and an important role in issues pertaining to Baltic Sea transports and logistics. Positive development in Russia, starting from economic development and growth of trade and extending to cooperation preparedness on border crossings, transport corridors and broader issues pertaining to logistics, has brought significant benefits to Finland, Russia’s other neighbouring countries and the Baltic Sea sphere more widely. The steep economic downturn has cut these benefits and has caused Russia to introduce various unilateral measures that strain and hinder trade. Binding Russia to multilateral trade rules and EU standards and norms through, among others, membership of the WTO and a new partnership agreement between the EU and Russia, would promote predictability and facilitate the removal of barriers to trade, traffic and transports.
This evaluation was presented by Pekka Huhtaniemi, Under-Secretary of State responsible for External Economic Relations at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, in the talk on Baltic Sea region transport and logistics issues he gave in Vilnius, Lithuania on 11 September. Huhtaniemi took part in the round-table discussion “Co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region: an Example for Closer EU Russia Relations?” held in Vilnius on 1011 September.
Huhtaniemi considered that the Baltic Sea is becoming increasingly important as a strategic trade and energy transport corridor. The rise in Russia’s oil transports has made maritime safety, especially as concerns oil tankers, a new key element in the Baltic Sea transports equation. The Gulf of Finland is a testing ground for the implementation of new technology increasing the safety of tanker traffic.
It is in the interest of the Baltic Sea sphere also to promote intercontinental corridor projects both to the Black Sea and further to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia, and via rail traffic to Siberia to Eastern Asia, as well as to become profiled as the hub for air traffic linking the Far East to Europe and the east coast of North America.
As new EU-level policy tools in Baltic Sea region transport issues, Huhtaniemi raised to the fore the EU’s Baltic Sea Region Strategy and the associated Northern Dimension transport and logistics partnership which, it is hoped, will be launched at the start of 2010. Huhtaniemi also referred to major infrastructure projects in the transport sector of the Baltic Sea sphere that have been implemented or are underway. When the Oresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden for nine years now is followed in 2018 by the Fehmarn Belt Bridge linking Denmark and Germany, Scandinavia will have a solid connection with continental Europe. Huhtaniemi hoped that with implementation of the Rail Baltica project, among others, the eastern rim of the Baltic Sea would keep pace so that Helsinki, too, would have high-speed train connections to the south corresponding with those to St Petersburg at the start of next year.
With regard to logistics, Huhtaniemi referred to major investments, such as Vuosaari harbour and Russia’s large harbour projects in the easternmost Gulf of Finland. The crucial factor as concerns the creation and realisation of bridge, rail and harbour projects often appears to be political will at the local and regional level, overlapping with the support and backing of governments. The financing of huge projects most often is arranged on the basis of public and private partnership.