Baltic Sea Cleanup the Focus of European, Russian Efforts

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, May 15, 2001 (ENS) - Swedish State Secretary Sven-Eric Söder is in Kaliningrad, Russia as the main speaker at a waste management conference today. His visit is part of work being done by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union, a six months rotating position occupied by Sweden from January 1 through June 30, 2001.

The conference is organized by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Environmental Technology Network and the Swedish Trade Council together with the Danish environmental board as part of a long term initiative to solve Kaliningrad's water problems.

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Kaliningrad Hotel in the center of the city. (Photo courtesy Kaliningrad Central Hotels)
Kaliningrad is Russia's window on the Baltic Sea. The region, which is cut off from the rest of Russia by Poland and Lithuania, is a Special Economic Zone that is the only port in the west of Russia to be free of ice all year round.

"This is about our common waters and the situation is serious. Raw sewage is running straight out into the Baltic Sea and the tap water is undrinkable," said Söder before his trip.

The conference will convene about 70 water experts and Russian decision makers. The majority come from Kaliningrad and other parts of northwestern Russia.

Swedish and Danish experts will report on methods for water purification and will describe some experiences from the Nordic countries.

The conference in Kaliningrad also serves as an opportunity to promote export opportunities for Swedish environmental technologies, says Frederic Tiller, who works with the Swedish Environmental Technology Network, a part of the Swedish Trade Council.

In view of the future status of Kaliningrad as an enclave inside the European Union, the European Commission has adopted a Communication on potential opportunities and challenges, including fisheries and environmental questions.

Russia and European Union are reaching out to one another in a series of top level meetings this month. On Thursday, in his capacity as president of the European Council, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson will visit Moscow for discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The delegation will also include the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, and the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Dr. Javier Solana.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson under the emblem of the Swedish Presidency (Photo courtesy Swedish Presidency)
The European Union (EU) moving to include Russia in its environmental programs. EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom was in Moscow for three days last week to develop further cooperation. At an international seminar on environmental aspects of the EU-Russia Northern Dimension on May 11, Wallstrom affirmed that the two governments "are not starting from scratch" to deal with environmental issues.

Environment is one of the priority areas in the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA). Dialogue is conducted through the Sub-Committee on Environment, Energy and Nuclear Safety, and a joint environmental work program for Russia has been agreed under the PCA.

The main areas for bilateral co-operation include harmonization of environmental standards and legislation in the Baltic Sea region, among other areas.

The EU is promoting environmental investments in Russia, Wallstrom said and working towards the harmonization of Environmental Impact Assessment procedures, environmental monitoring and reporting.

The two governments are working on cooperation in climate change reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the safety of nuclear installations and radioactive waste management, Wallstrom said.

Raising public awareness, integration of environment into other sectors and institutional capacity building are all part of the cooperative agreement.

"It is also obvious from an environmental perspective that co-operation between the EU and Russia is essential to respond to the many common global and trans-boundary environmental concerns we face: climate change, ozone depletion, depletion of biodiversity, nuclear safety and waste, air and water pollution, the condition of the Baltic, Barents and Black Seas," Wallstrom said.

"Our interaction and the need for co-operation - is already substantial," she said. "It can only increase as the EU enlarges to the east and the economic transformation of central Europe and Russia proceeds."

Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Turkey are currently seeking access to the already existing union of 15 European states.

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Greenpeace ship near Swedish naval base (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The international environmental organization Greenpeace is putting pressure on Baltic Sea countries including Sweden to clean up their pollution of the sea. The Greenpeace vessel MV Greenpeace sailed to Sweden's largest military underground naval base Muskö near Stockholm May 10 to protest against its release of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the Baltic.

Muskö officials agreed to the Greenpeace demand that the Swedish navy close the base's tunnels and any other outflows in order to contain POPs contamination that Swedish authorities discovered at the base and prevent it from spreading into the environment.

Cleaning up its own POPs is particularly important to Sweden this month as the world's environment ministers converge on Stockholm next week to sign the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) to phase out 12 persistent organic pollutants worldwide.