The 12th EUSBSR Annual Forum invited participants to REVITALISE the Strategy, RECOVER after COVID-19 together, and RECHARGE for greener and more resilient Baltic Sea Region. The week-long event, which was held virtually due to the pandemic, explored the potential of the EU macro-regional strategy to further green recovery in the Baltic Sea Region.

A guiding principle of the Forum was the idea of synergies, which was reflected in the involvement of multi-level institutions, organisations, and other actors both in the in the realisation of the events and in the topics of discussion. In addition, the Annual Forum emphasised the role of cities, culture, and youth.

The format of the Annual Forum provided the opportunity to participate online in plenary sessions, workshops, networking sessions and other events for five consecutive days. Each day featured a plenary session discussing the sustainable future of the Baltic Sea Region from different perspectives.


Opening Session: Revitalise the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Stronger together


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The high-level opening session of the 12th Annual Forum focused on the economic recovery of the Baltic Sea Region through green and digital transformation. The discussion highlighted the potential of the Baltic Sea Region to become a forerunner in both green and digital transformation. Cooperation was considered essential both for furthering the development and for facing future crises. Although the important role of the EUSBSR in enabling and furthering cooperation was emphasised, it was recognised that more could be done within the framework of the Strategy to increase its positive impact.

“On our way to successful implementation of the Strategy, we need more visibility and a deeper sense of ownership, so that it would not be just a nice document to read, but also a way of living or an important aspect of our day-to-day activities.”

- Ingrida Šimonytė, Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania

The speakers considered the new Action Plan of the EUSBSR to be a step in the right direction. Its stronger focus on climate action and cooperation with neighbouring non-EU countries increases the opportunities to further green and digital transformation. The similarities between the objectives of the EUSBSR and the Green Recovery Plan of the EU were also highlighted.

“The Baltic Sea Strategy and our Recovery Plan are built on the same idea: the closer our union, the greater our prosperity.”

- Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

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Watch the opening session here.

Plenary Session I: EU agenda-setters vs. implementers: Which role for EU macro-regional strategies?

The first plenary session discussed how EU macro-regional strategies can contribute to the achievement of EU goals. Although macro-regional strategies are commonly viewed more as a means of implementing the EU agenda, the speakers confirmed that they believe macro-regional strategies can be agenda setters as well. The knowledge and experience gained through regional cooperation is of great value not only on the implementing level, but also for the policy making process. In addition, macro-regional strategies can learn from each other.

“Many ideas that were born in this Region have become more or less European agenda as well”

- Arnoldas Pranckevičius, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania.

Still, the main role of macro-regional strategies is to combine the forces of a region to work on a common agenda. As noted during the discussion, actions need to be made on the level where it is most effective, which in some cases is the macro-regional level. Many of the challenges we face today can only be overcome if we set common objectives and work together on every level to reach them. Speakers also highlighted how important it is that macro-regional strategies include non-EU countries in the cooperation, as the challenges we are facing do not know borders.

“How can you address pollution in a sea basin if you don’t have coordination in how you address these issues – if you do something in one country and the other one does the exact opposite?”

- Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms

Watch the first plenary session here.


Plenary Session II: COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities for youth in times of crisis

The second plenary session discussed how young people could be more actively involved in the implementation of the Strategy and how they could contribute to the sustainable future of the region. The panel stated that the youth should be truly included in development and decision making instead of just listening to their opinions.

“We think that we should do favours to young people, whereas perhaps the contrary is true. Because we need young people much more than they need us.”

- Slawomir Tokarski, Director for the European Territorial Cooperation, Macro-regions, Interreg and Programmes Implementation I, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission

The main challenge is to create the right means to involve young people. As acknowledged by the speakers, many different factors need to be considered, such as how to reach out to the youth. One way of securing youth participation could be to set up a permanent youth council with financing. Most importantly, the input of the youth should be considered and taken seriously in the decision-making processes.

“Youth is not the future, youth is today. And the priority for the youth today is the priority for the future. Anything what we are doing today, in the end it will have some effect.”

- Eitvydas Bingelis, Head of Vilnius Office of the International Organization for Migration

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Watch the second plenary session here.


Plenary Session III: Green Recovery: The role of education, skills development, and inclusiveness

The third plenary session explored how the EUSBSR can contribute to green recovery. The speakers agreed that more action and innovation is needed on all levels of the society. The importance of the green transition including everyone, also youth and children, as well as rural societies, was highlighted.

“If we want green recovery to work, it needs to be owned by those who are concerned. It means all of us, individually, but collectively as well – citizens, communities, regions, states, macro-regions, and Europe as a whole.”

- Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

The synergy between the public and private sector was also considered to be essential for green recovery. The panel found that the public sector should focus on supporting and enabling the green transition of the private sector, as the majority of the investments needed to address challenges, such as climate change, must be done by the private sector.

“Macro-regional level cooperation could be a useful tool to speed up green recovery by using our good business connections and by letting the private sector operate to address these challenges.”

- Jyrki Katainen, President of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra

Watch the third plenary session here.


Closing event: Sustainable future of the Baltic Sea Region: What role for the youth?


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The closing event of the Annual Forum 2021 was fully dedicated to the youth. The panel, which also featured young panellists, discussed youth participation in the EUSBSR and the green transition. The speakers highlighted the importance and added value of including the youth in the policy making process.

“We need some values that the young people are bringing. They have the capacity to look for the other, this natural curiosity, and a desire for actions that are based on solidarity, fairness and justice.”

- Slawomir Tokarski, Director for the European Territorial Cooperation, Macro-regions, Interreg and Programmes Implementation I, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission

The panel also recognised that although young people want to participate more actively in democracy, the existing system is not encouraging it as much as it should. Young people need to feel that their involvement is authentic, that they can have a real impact. In addition, decision makers should explore new modern ways young people could be more involved.

“Young people want to participate in democracy, both institutionally and in non-formal mechanisms, but it is difficult for them to do it.”

- Thomas Matthew, Board Member of the European Youth Forum

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Watch the closing session here.



The 2021 EUSBSR Annual Forum was organised from 27 September to 1 October 2021 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Kaunas City Municipality, Klaipėda City Municipality, and the Union of the Baltic Cities.