Greetings from the 9th Annual Forum on the EU Strategy for Baltic Sea Region!

As the EU Strategy for Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) flagship project for bioeconomy, RDI2CluB, we attended the 9th EUSBSR Annual Forum in Tallinn on June 4-5, 2018. Event involves networking opportunities, latest news on policies and funding programs as well as best practices related to the themes of saving the sea, increasing prosperity and connecting the region. For us, it also provided a meeting forum for our first Advisory Board meeting of the RDI2CluB project.

What is EUSBSR and how are we involved?

In brief, the EUSBSR is an agreement between the Member States of the EU and the European Commission to strengthen cooperation between the countries bordering the Baltic Sea in order to meet the common challenges and to benefit from common opportunities facing the region. Saving the sea has been the unifying challenge addressed by the strategy along with increasing prosperity and connectivity within the macro-region. As stated by EU Commissioner of Regional Policy, Corina Crețu, the EU Strategy for Baltic Sea Region has been the most successful macro-regional strategy within EU which reflects good macro-regional cohesion and commitment for common goals.

In the EUSBSR context, the tangible actions for attaining the aims are implemented via the flagship projects. In other words, the flagships are the main implementation mechanism for the strategy. RDI2CluB project, led by JAMK, was selected as one of the Bioeconomy Flagship projects, which means that we are doing forerunning activities in the bioeconomy development and our progress is observed as a pilot example for the Baltic Sea Region. As stated in the Policy Area Bioeconomy, the Baltic Sea Region bioeconomy offers many new business and job opportunities for rural areas. In RDI2CluB, we wish to demonstrate this promise and assist rural regions around Baltic Sea to realize their bioeconomy potential via smart specialization, transnational networking and development of innovation management.

Beyond 2020 – Exploring the potential paths for EUSBSR

As a launch to the EUSBSR Annual Forum discussions in Tallinn, a study ‘EUSBSR after 2020: Governance remastered?’ was published in May 2018. The study involved EUSBSR stakeholders to reflect how the EUSBSR strategy should evolve in the changing environment, especially in order to achieve the ‘Save the Sea’ objectives. What was found was that there is a need for simplification of governance. It has been noted that there are too many governance layers in the EUSBSR system that seems to create confusion and complexity. Certain proposals have been made for further discussion including the stronger alignment with the Interreg BSR funding program, improving the visibility of the flagships, deepening synergies and integration of objectives to global trends and challenges as well as opening up via thematic partnerships. In other words, the development paths proposed are strong synergy with Interreg, self-reflective simplification actions and thematic partnerships with committed implementers.

In relation to the flagship projects, it has been noted that the flagships are short-term, have a definite lifespan and do not offer long-term flexibility as a strategy implementation mechanism. Study proposes creation of flagship processes, i.e. macro-regional processes implemented via interlinked activities – projects, meetings, platforms etc. to address the challenge. The process approach would assist long-term planning and priorities on a policy coordination platform as well as broader and continuous networks and partnerships. Study further proposes financing flagships through ESI Funds, which is not fully exploited by the EUSBSR. This would provide additional funding opportunities for implementation of flagships to decrease reliance on the Interreg funding.

The development paths presented are partly contradictory and it is not clear at the moment which way the EUSBSR will go, but what is certain is that there is a common interest in continuing the good work for improving the state of the Baltic Sea. Coming political discussions in the Baltic Sea States and the readiness for committing resources for the implementation of the macro-regional strategy will determine the course in due time. In any case, the aim is to not add governance, but to increase impact.

RDI2CluB has gathered an interesting network as the Advisory Board

The Annual Forum provided a convenient backdrop for our first RDI2CluB Advisory Board meeting held on June 5, 2018.  Our Advisory Board brings together academia, policy makers and specialists of transnational cooperation and innovation ecosystems around Baltic Sea. Furthermore, the Coordinator of EUSBSR Bioeconomy, Nordic Council of Ministers, is represented along with the Baltic Sea States Sub-regional co-operation (BSSSC) network to share our results and provide contextual awareness on the bioeconomy development in the regions of Baltic Sea. BSSSC is a political network for decentralized authorities, such as regions, municipalities and cities, in the Baltic Sea Region.

National-level interest in Baltic Countries for RDI2CluB

Ministry of Rural Affairs of the Republic of Estonia and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Latvia are both represented in our Advisory Board to connect our work to national bioeconomy strategy development processes. Estonia and Latvia are in different stages with the bioeconomy strategies, but both hold a great bioeconomy potential with abundant natural resources.

In Latvia, there is a National Bioeconomy Strategy that provides a vision for bioeconomy development by 2030. Latvia’s vision for the bioeconomy strategy states that “Bioeconomy sectors of Latvia are innovation leaders in the Baltic States in preserving natural capital, increasing its vale and in efficiently and sustainably exploiting it”. Strategy sets goals for advancing employment and value of bioeconomy products and experts by 2030. The intention is to integrate the tangible actions supporting the strategy into the National development plan that is to be updated for after 2020 period. The National Development Plan feeds into the Smart Specialization Strategy of Latvia which is guiding the regional smart specialization strategies. As this update of National Development Plan and subsequently the Smart Specialization Strategy is on the way, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Latvia is following our project – and especially the Joint Action Plans – with great interest.

In Estonia, the Ministry of Rural Affairs of the Republic of Estonia launched the process for developing a national bioeconomy strategy already in 2014. However, co-operation between different Ministries has been challenging and now strategy has yet seen the light of day. Sectoral strategies exist, but lack the integrated framework for connecting the value chains and taking advantage of the full potential of the vast bio-resources. With the Regional Bioeconomy Profiles depicting the potential of bioeconomy and the roadmaps that follow, Ministry of Rural Affairs of the Republic of Estonia hopes to find motives, initiatives and tools for developing a national bioeconomy strategy.

Smart Specialization Networks around Baltic Sea 

Due to similar thematic interests, the Baltic Institute of Finland was also invited to the Advisory Board to facilitate interaction and information exchange between the EUSBSR Innovation flagship BSR Stars, and most notably, the BSR Stars S3 -project. BSR Stars aims at strengthening competitiveness and economic growth in the Baltic Sea Region by linking strong research environments, clusters and SME networks to create a number of globally-leading innovation partnerships that address common “grand challenges” in the Baltic Sea Region. BSR Stars also aims at strengthening innovation policy capabilities to work with smart specialization on a macro-regional level. The main objective of the BSR Stars S3 project is to enhance implementation of regional smart specialization strategies (RIS3) with focus on bio- and circular economy field.

A part from Baltic Institute of Finland, we also have a cluster specialists from Paper Province Sweden in the Advisory Board representing BSR Stars S3 and a best practice region in smart specialization and bioeconomy cluster development. To strengthen the cooperation, RDI2CluB team was even invited to benchmark the best practices of smart specialization and innovation ecosystem development in Paper Province, Sweden, in connection to the transnational workshop in Hedmark, Norway.

With strong networks towards 2020 and beyond

We see that the Advisory Board can support our mission in various ways. They can provide advice on the implementation of smart specialisation strategies and building of innovation ecosystems as well as provide quality assurance of our outputs with comments on achieved results and evaluation in terms of quality, policy relevance and applicability to end-users. Furthermore, they provide a link to networks around Baltic Sea region that can facilitate the uptake and expansion of our bioeconomy innovation network and platform.

All in all, the RDI2CluB advisory board provides us an interesting network that can prove valuable also for planning of new initiatives and getting involved in major development projects in the Baltic Sea Region, such as the envisioned flagship processes of EUSBSR after 2020. Similarly, in case the ‘EUSBSR after 2020’ will strengthen the alignment to global challenges, we are well positioned to play a part. After all, Baltic Sea Region’s bioeconomy holds a promise for responding to many global challenges while supporting regional development, vitality and competitiveness… and, let’s not forget, saving the sea.

Rural RDI milieus in transition towards smart bioeconomy clusters and innovation ecosystems, RDI2CluB –project ( is implemented by 12 project partners form Finland, Norway, Latvia, Poland and Estonia within the framework of Interreg Baltic Sea Region (BSR) programme 2014 – 2020, with European Regional Development Fund and Norwegian national funding. RDI2CluB is a Flagship project of EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) for Policy Area Bioeconomy.  In the Interreg BSR project family of 2014-2020, RDI2CluB –project is under the Priority 1 ’Capacity for innovation’ that is dedicated to actions strengthening the ability of the Baltic Sea Region to create and commercialize innovation.

-Anna Aalto, Project Manager, JAMK University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Bioeconomy

Sources: Toptsidou, M. & Böhme, K. 2018. EUSBSR after 2020: Governance remastered. Spatial Foresight. Study conducted for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.