The Baltic Course  

Motorways of the Baltic Sea

A Finnish idea and European initiative

Inna Rogatchi, Rogatchi Productions & Communications Ltd., 2002 (Helsinki)

During an official visit of the Lithuanian president Algirdas Brazauskas to Finland in May 2002, the Prime-Minister of Finland Paavo Lipponen introduced to his colleague and guest an idea that might become one of the first real breakthroughs in a new level of development for the European-Baltic transportation systems of the 21st century

Easing Integration

Photo: The BC archives

The Finnish idea named Motorways of the Baltic Sea is one of the rare ideas, indicating a serious strategic approach and presents clear vision bearing not only logistical and engineering factors but also has a very substantial political element and constructive planning on complex development of economy, business, and social spheres. This responsible approach to the future – what proper politics is about - is twice as important as the subject of development in the Baltic states, countries that are most likely to become members of the EU in a most foreseeable future. The better qualified they will become prior to gaining formal membership, the smoother will their integration be into a not always easy or clear EU daily life. To ease integration of your neighbours into an international super-entity is a  decent and not often met nowadays position, and the Prime Minister of Finland, Paavo Lipponen and his team deserve appreciation for their politics in this issue.

We asked Mr Rauno Saari, State Secretary of Finland, and one of the most central decision-making figures in the Prime Minister’s cabinet to comment this important Finnish initiative:

“There are good old traditions in developing transport in areas of sea regions. If we go through history, sea and water have much more united than divided both countries and peoples. From that perspective, the idea of Motorways of the Baltic Sea is not an especially new or unheard of thought. By now, road transportation, as well as rails have been developed so widely already, that probably this is the time to consider new possibilities for use of water ways. At least, we believe that it is an interesting idea to work on. The Baltic Sea for Finland always has been an important transport and trade connection to neighbor countries. Nowadays our joint co-operation and trade are rising quite powerfully. What’s good is that the European Union is interested in this matter. From the point of view of all countries of the Baltic Sea region, it is quite important to consider the development of transport network and logistics supporting system for it having in mind development of different kinds of transportation, - sea transport systems including. And it shall be given an equal chance during such consideration among the other forms of transportation. We do hope that the EU interest in this idea of the sea motorway will give new speed and efficient proceeding to the general development of sea transportation.”


Concept and prospects

As leading Finnish expert on the project, adviser of the Ministry of Transport and Communications Mr Kaj-Peter Mattsson, explained to us,  the concept of the new project has originated from the EU's White Paper (the EU main transport policy document created in August 2001).

Amongst the main reasons for origination the concept Mr Mattsson is naming the need of alternative and more competitive routes; appreciation of the vision of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe as a gateway to areas strategically important for the EU; and the possibility to implement the Northern Dimension concept in practical terms and in vivid area of international transport inter-connections.

Mr Mattsson commented all of these reasons broader for us:  

“Firstly, congestion, bottlenecks and dilapidated infrastructure in land transport have become the main problems that are now beginning to threaten economic competitiveness. Short sea shipping could provide for means of coping with he congestion. The Sea Motorways concept develops the sea transport based transport chain to make this transportation alternative more competitive in future. One of the main goals for the CTP ( Common Transport Policy)  is to alleviate problems on congested land routes. Maritime transport is environmentally friendly and it has good safety records.

Secondly, the Baltic Sea connects the countries that lie around it. EU enlargement in 2004 means that the Baltic Sea is, in practice, becoming an inner sea for the Union. Freight and passenger transport demand in the Baltic Sea region is expected to grow considerably annually reflecting the region's economic growth and great economic potential. It poses more challenges to all countries around the Baltic Rim. Maritime transport and development of ports play a strategic role for trade, economic development, cohesion and accessibility in the area. The Baltic Sea in Northern Europe is practically a gateway between east and west, between north and south. It is therefore vital to create efficient maritime transport systems in the area.

Thirdly, we see the Motorways of the Baltic Sea initiative as an integrated, important and concrete project of the Northern Dimension for the EU. In our view, it is important that all the countries around the Baltic Rim together promote the Northern Dimension of the EU. Large areas of Northern Europe are characterized by long distances, severe winter conditions and low population density. Maritime transport makes it economically possible to trade goods between these peripheral areas and the EU's main markets areas. The logistics costs in Finland are 2-3 times higher than in Central European countries. The “Motorways of the Baltic Sea” is extremely important for Finland for several reasons. One of them is foreign trade: over 80 % of Finland’s foreign trade is transported by sea. The percentages for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are similar. Maritime transport is very important also to Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Poland.”

What are the prospects for implementation of the project, it's timing and financing?

Adviser of the Ministry of Transport and Communications Mr Mattsson responsible for the project as one of its main elaborators, explained to us that  “Concrete details  will be jointly specified during the process on implementation, but it will anyhow include all infrastructure  and transport services needed in the transport chain. Among the other things, there will be traffic management and information systems, development of compatibility in the transport chain, development of port operations, development of container and unified cargo handling, smoother customs operations, information systems and inter-modal transport, vessel technology and hinterland connections and icebreakers. A comprehensive network approach for the whole of the Baltic Sea region should be taken into account in the development of the motorways of the Baltic Sea. Then it should be jointly decided which seaways should be given the status on Baltic Sea Motorways. A certain level of service, high transport volumes and efficient operations could be criteria for Sea Motorways status.” 

As for timing and financing of the project, the EU commission is planning to make the sea motorways concept concrete by 2004 when the next revision of TEN Guidelines will be issued. The Baltic Sea Motorways should be included and part of trans-European networks just like road and railways. And they should be prioritized in the allocation on TEN financial aid. The EU's MARCO POLO program can also provide for added financial assistance as the aim of MARCO POLO is to improve environmental performance of the freight transport.


The Baltic Role

Mr Mattsson emphasized that although this initiative and its’ marketing has just started (the visit of the Lithuanian Prime Minister has become real suitable “inauguration” moment), the “motorways of the Baltic Sea States “ should basically be a joint project for all the Baltic Sea States and for the EU. Two weeks before visit of Mr Brazauskas,  the idea has been presented for the Estonian Minister of Economic affaires and Transport Mrs Tonisson by her Finnish colleague Mr. Sasi in a bilateral meeting in the end of April 2002.  It is also scheduled to be discussed at the Nordic Council Transport ministers at their meeting 25-26 June 2002. The ministry of transport and communications of Finland is intended to inform about the matter to all relevant parties in the Baltic Sea region.

Mr Mattsson gave some important details on planning and expecting role of the EU in the concrete implementation of the project: “ We think it is very crucial that the EU commission is active in promoting the initiative and in the concrete implementation of the project. We hope that the commission will convene a meeting for all the interested parties, hopefully in the beginning of autumn 2002. At this meeting we should jointly define in more detail the concept and aims, decide how to proceed and choose leading countries or parties for the project.”

We also asked Finnish official’s comments on the appeared idea of Rail Baltic – on which stage it is, and what the Finnish position was on this project. Mr Mattsson kindly agreed to comment the situation around Rail Baltic:

“The ministry of transport and communications of Finland is not today in the position to take a final stand on the Rail Baltica – project.  A feasibility study by a German company is to be published in the near future and we are waiting for the results of that study. Principally the project seems to be interesting and we are closely following the development. On the other hand it is a fact that today the logistics of the Finnish exports and the forest industry is mainly based on maritime transport. The interest of the Finnish Railways (VR-group Ltd) is connected to the interest of the Finnish business sector in this respect.