I’m thinking about the future of the Baltic Sea Region
10 Jun 2016

An interview with Talis Linkaits of the VASAB secretariat, coordinator of the horizontal action spatial planning of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). Interreg Baltic Sea Region helps develop the region through a culture of cooperation and provides funding for coordination of the EUSBSR as well as seed money.

© VASAB Secretariat
Logo of the EUSBSR

Spatial planning is one of the horizontal actions of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). This horizontal action has two aims: To encourage the use of maritime spatial planning in all EU Member States around the Baltic Sea and to develop a common approach for cross-border cooperation. The horizontal action is coordinated by two transnational bodies: VASAB (Vision and Strategies around the Baltic Sea) and HELCOM (Helsinki Comission). We ask Talis Linkaits, head of the VASAB Secretariat in Riga and Horizontal Action Coordinator (HAC) about the purpose of the horizontal action, about his work and about the role of flagships and Interreg Baltic Sea Region seed money for the horizontal action.

Tell us a little bit about spatial planning in the Baltic Sea region: What is it and why do we need it?

Talis Linkaits: When my 10- and 12-year-old sons ask me what I am doing, I tell them I’m thinking about the future of the region. Spatial planning means writing plans and drawing maps which create the preconditions for the future: Which areas will be reserved for agriculture, which for renewable energy production, where the corridors for transport on road and rail will be located, where people will live. Altogether these plans aim to create a good environment with good infrastructure for people to live a prosperous life of high quality. Authorities around the Baltic Sea have been doing such planning for decades. Currently, we are working on spatial plans for the sea, too: shipping, fisheries, nature conservation, electricity lines and wind parks – they all compete for space, and spatial planning helps to find the right balance.  

What is the role of VASAB as a Horizontal Action Coordinator (HAC) for spatial planning in the Baltic Sea Region?

Talis Linkaits: VASAB was established as a cooperation of ministries responsible for spatial planning and development in order to come up with a joint vision of the future of the region. Nowadays, we are not only talking about the vision, but also focusing on its implementation. The EUSBSR with its horizontal action spatial planning is a wonderful framework for how to make sure the visions become reality.  

Our task as Horizontal Action Coordinator is to involve all available stakeholders - not only the usual circle of national ministries and regional administrations. We organise workshops and participate more frequently in projects, e.g. in their Steering Committees. Because of this, we see more clearly what is taking place in the region in the field of spatial planning - on regional, national and international levels. Due to the Strategy, we see the bottom-up initiatives much better than before. Together with the stakeholders, we identify issues that are currently not tackled and help to get funding for tackling them, for example as a flagship.  

What is a flagship?

Talis Linkaits: It’s actually in the name: When you are tackling a new issue, you’re moving into new territory, and you need someone to hold the flag and guide the way. A flagship project explores something very relevant for the whole region and provides solutions which can then be transferred to others and multiplied for the whole region. They are testing laboratories with a very practical outcome.  

How can a project become a flagship?

Talis Linkaits: Well, the formal and first step for project developers is to go to the VASAB website  and see the criteria and the procedure for becoming a flagship. But then they have to think: What does the project contribute - not only for one country, not only for two, but what is the relevance of this project for the whole region? What change will it bring? How does this project contribute to coherent territorial development? In Maritime Spatial Planning the question is how to make sure that the national plans are developed in a coherent way. They need to write down their project concept and send it to us for evaluation by the Steering Committee. 

We have two Steering Committees: a joint committee with HELCOM for maritime spatial planning, and the VASAB committee for land-based spatial planning. The Secretariat has a first look and makes a proposal to the Steering Committee. If time allows, we invite representatives of the developers to present the idea. And then the Steering Committee decides if they accept the project as a flagship.  

We don’t support theoretical exercises. We are looking for projects with partners who can really implement the project and which have a clear work plan. We want to see if it is realistic and if the process is clear. If this is not the case, but the idea as such is good, we might propose to start with a seed money project instead of a full scale project.

What role does the seed money play?

Talis Linkaits: Seed money is a smaller grant which helps us develop proposals in a way so that they can be funded by Interreg, BONUS, Horizon 2020 or even national funding programmes. It is money to stimulate cooperation processes. Those partnerships which start with seed money are usually better prepared to do a successful project than others.

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