We are pleased to announce that regular maritime traffic over the Kvarken Strait between Finland and Sweden will continue in the future, the ferry’s financing has been obtained, the plans are in order, and the construction agreement has been signed. It is now time for the vision to become reality. The world’s northernmost year-round ferry connection between Vaasa (Finland) and Umeå (Sweden) will enable the continuation of the cross-border collaboration and the transport of passengers and freight between our countries, open up versatile transport networks from the ports to the wider world, and enable the creation of new collaboration forms in the Kvarken region.
We have put a great deal of intensive and long-term work towards this goal together with the region’s actors since 2011, when maritime traffic became the Kvarken Council’s most important mission as a result of the bankruptcy of RG Line shipping company. In fact, the Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications of the time, Merja Kyllönen, set up a working group on the following day to prepare a strategy to safeguard the Kvarken’s maritime traffic. The strategy was completed in 2012, and it stated that ferry traffic between Vaasa and Umeå as well as its development should be viewed as a part of a larger whole: the traffic infrastructure of the European Route E12. One important part of this was an environmentally friendly ferry that was tailored to meet the Kvarken region’s needs and be able to navigate in ice conditions.
A significant part of Kvarken traffic’s development work has been carried out in the Kvarken Council’s various projects, most notably in the project Midway Alignment of the Bothnian Corridor, which effectively put the Kvarken region on the map also in the European Union. Others worth mentioning include several projects funded by the EU’s Interreg programme, e.g. MABA I and MABA II. All of these have pushed forward the development work outlined by the strategy. We have advanced at a good pace also in terms of the schedule, although we have met with successes and setbacks. I am proud. We have been able to achieve something great thanks to excellent cross-border teamwork between civil servants, politicians, entrepreneurs and the private and public sectors. Thank you all!
As mentioned, the goals of the aforementioned strategy are already coming true, and the Kvarken Council has begun preparations for the next phase. Cooperation between the Ostrobothnian regions in Finland and Västerbotten and Örnsköldsvik in Sweden has progressed so far that the current type of association has become too small. Because of this, the Kvarken Council’s Board has tasked us with transforming the Kvarken Council’s legal form from a registered association to an EGTC, a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation. The aim is to prepare the matter so that the Kvarken Council’s annual meeting in May 2019 can decide on the establishment of the Kvarken Council EGTC.
An EGTC is designed to facilitate cross-border cooperation between EU Member States and their regional and local authorities. It would grant the long-term Kvarken region cooperation the status it deserves, a stronger position both at Nordic and European levels, visibility, better preconditions for cross-border cooperation, and improved funding opportunities. The aim is also to expand the Kvarken Council’s activities by attracting the region’s municipalities to join as members.
I am convinced that we take a great leap forward into the future with the EGTC decision.
The Kvarken ferry’s realization will also allow us to focus on other issues concerning interest representation, for instance other modes of transport (flight connections, road and railway networks) and the further development of tourism via e.g. the Destination Kvarken project, which aims to improve the region’s competitiveness. In addition, we have been invited to several Interreg Baltic Sea Region projects. The preparations for two of these are ongoing, but a project called BSR ACCESS has already been launched. BSR ACCESS focuses on the distribution and further processing of results and reports from projects that are completed or nearing completion. This three-year “project platform” enables a new type of effectiveness, where projects receive strategic visibility amongst the EU’s decision-makers and interest groups. This is an acknowledgment of our important regional work that also brings added value to the rest of Europe. The time is also right, and the transitional period from the transport link’s securement to new tasks has, thus far, been very successful.
Forwards – together!
Vaasa, 25 January 2019