Welcoming address by Mr Olav Jern, former Regional Mayor
Kvarken Council’s new strategy plan 2018-2020, with aim at 2025
Members of the Kvarken Council gathered in their annual general meeting in Umeå, Sweden on Monday 21st May, where the Council’s new strategy plan was adopted unanimously. It is a plan for the Council’s future activities and based on the goals and strategies pointed out by the members as being important for the Council but also for the development of the Kvarken region.
The strategy plan was compiled in a situation where the Kvarken traffic is witnessing a significant uplift thanks to the joint ferry company owned by the cities of Vaasa and Umeå and to the strategically important measures taken for the Kvarken traffic in the EU-funded project ”Midway Alignment of the Bothnian Corridor” where the Kvarken Council has had a very central role. At the same time, there are challenges facing the Kvarken Council, viz. a growing interest for Nordic cooperation and the new model adopted by the Nordic Council of Ministers for the funding of its cross-border committees starting from 2018. The third significant factor in the strategy work was the fact that the present structural fund programming period is soon to end. The Community is now planning the guidelines for future regional policy after 2020, which will decide if there is a chance to establish a new EU-financed cross-border programme after Botnia-Atlantica 2014-2020.
The Kvarken Council’s new strategy plan builds on strong and shared understanding of the present situation and its demands for the future. This shared understanding includes the following elements:
• Sense of solidarity
• Functional region with wide cooperation in companies, organisations and the public sector
• A lot of activities with people who are committed to cooperation, strong will, persistence and continuity based on know-how, competence and culture
• New openings in infrastructure and transports
• Strong Nordic anchoring with good contacts to the Nordic Council of Ministers
• Clear EU profile with activites that produce visibility at the EU level
To conclude, let me elaborate on some of the central guidelines in the strategy plan. The Kvarken region shall be actively involved in European and Nordic networks. The plan includes a historial ambition, namely to transform the Kvarken Council cross-border committee from being a registered association into a new organisational form, EGTC, European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation. In that case, the Kvarken Council would become the first fully Nordic EGTC. An EGTC provides better possibilities for EU-financing and improved visibility in Nordic and EU contexts.
Further, the strategy plan unanimously concludes that a new Botnia-Atlantica programme is highly desirable for the structural fund programming period 2021-2027. The geography should remain the same, viz. Ostrobothnia, South Ostrobothnia and Central Ostrobothnia in Finland, Västerbotten and Västernorrland in Sweden, and Nordland in Norway.
The strategy plan starts from the premise that Kvarken cooperation and, consequently, the existence of the Kvarken Council is based on strong ties between the peoples, whether it is between inhabitants, associations, companies or various organisations. They must be able to establish close cooperation across the Kvarken Strait. Hundreds of years of proximity, family ties and shared history, quite irrespective of the events in world history, have been a source of security and natural solidarity for the inhabitants of the Kvarken region. The Kvarken Council shall be a platform and channel for this cooperation between the peoples. The Kvarken Council can help various actors and mobilise resources and competence at the local level for cross-border cooperation, by engaging children and youth, art and culture activists, companies and entrepreneurs, associations, schools etc. in Kvarken cooperation and by building up a strong commitment for cooperation.
The Kvarken Council emphasises the important of the public sector and municipalities, in particular, adopting an active role in cross-border cooperation. Since both Region Västerbotten in Sweden and the Ostrobothnian provinces in Finland will be implementing changes in their regional governance, meaning that the municipalies will no longer have any direct ownership in the Council’s founding members Västerbotten, Ostrobothnia, South Ostrobothnia and Central Ostrobothnia, it is the wish of the Kvarken Council to involve the municipalities closer to the Council’s daily work so that they, in cooperation, can make use of the new approaches that the development of the Nordic welfare model requires. The Kvarken Council is planning a new platform for cooperation between the municipalities in the Kvarken region, called ”Kvarken forum for municipalities”, which can be a meeting point for municipalities, enabling them to improve reciprocal exchange of competence and experiences. This forum can, for example, be arranged in the connection of Kvarken Council's annual general meetings.
The strategy plan includes demanding tasks for the Kvarken Council and its members. The tasks require the owners to prioritise the Council activities, both in the form of active engagement for cooperation and of economic input in order to decrease the dependency on projects and to establish a solid economic foundation.