EUSBSR Should Be Profoundly Transformative

Zane Šime |

Original date of publication on the UACES Ideas on Europe platform: 21 October 2019

“In each one of us, in differing degrees, is contained the person we were yesterday, and indeed, in the nature of things it is even true that our past personae predominate in us, since the present is necessarily insignificant when compared with the long period of the past because of which we have emerged in the form we have today. It is just that we don’t directly feel the influence of these past selves precisely because they are so deeply rooted within us. They constitute the unconscious part of ourselves.”

Emile Durkheim quoted by Pierre Bourdieu in “The Logic of Practice


For me, the 10th-anniversary of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) is a very special moment of celebration. It marks a decade of my academic and professional journey which revolved around the Baltic Sea Region. It started with a choice to acquire my first international higher education experience in the Baltic Sea Region, continued with a specific academic focus on the EUSBSR and later on I had a unique opportunity to contribute to the implementation of the EUSBSR at the Secretariat of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Bearing in mind the quote of Durkheim, my short recap of these ten years helps to shed a light how my past experiences have shaped my assessment of the EUSBSR and its future potential with a distinct focus on the importance of continuous investments in the mindsets, overall awareness and analytical skills of those who have an opportunity to mould the macro-region. It’s the human capital, stupid!

In August 2009 I commenced my first academic exchange studies in Halden (Norway) with the financial support of the EEA/Norway Grants. It was my first memorable period which equals to the effect showcased by BalticLab – a life-changing experience, also described as one of those points in life when one says “oh, that was before BalticLab and that was after BalticLab”. Due to the fantastically supportive administrative staff and student association of the Østfold University College (Høgskolen i Østfold – HiØ), I enjoyed an unbelievably carefree academic year. By ‘carefree’ I refer to the admirably student-oriented services such as the student housing, as well as a vast programme of student trips to, e.g., Freia Chocolate Factory – a place where I discovered Munch and found out the essence of Norwegian national romanticism. At HiØ I made some lifetime friendships which continue enriching my worldview.

But most importantly, HiØ taught me some core concepts and currents of thought which allowed me to feel well prepared for various professional engagements. One of the most recent examples is HiØ’s taught BATNA. Familiarity with this classical concept of negotiations allowed me to take up the role of the Chair of a UN working group in the framework of the Mercury Game simulated during the AAAS Science Diplomacy and Leadership Workshop 2018 with more ease and confidence. Of course, none of my HiØ experiences would have been possible without the much-appreciated support at the University of Latvia where I was enrolled in a full-time Bachelor programme specialising in political science. To this day, I feel really fortunate that I was a student at an institution which prioritises student interests in acquiring an enriching experience throughout their study programme and its modalities.

During my Master’s studies at the University of Latvia, I made my first substantial attempts to get an in-depth insight into the EUSBSR by examining the national coordination models of the Strategy. This is where my explicit encounter with the EUSBSR commenced.

In addition, during this study period, I had an opportunity to acquire a Nordplus Higher Education experience. Nordplus week-long study trips to the University of Tartu and the University of Vilnius were interesting subject-wise (migration and security, EU and international law, implementation of human rights). These events gave a better understanding of the major intellectual currents characterising the higher education system in the Baltic States. I’m really grateful to the University of Latvia for offering such extra-curricular learning opportunities and Nordplus for support in my discovery process of the Baltic higher education system beyond the confines of the library of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Latvia.

I should also thank the University of Tartu for being more than welcoming hosts by opening to the visiting students the whole campus, including registration at the university’s library. The central library of a university tells a great deal about the history and current set-up of a specific university. That is why I wanted to point out why I was so excited about an opportunity to familiarise with the Tartu one. I should also add that during my first Nordplus fieldtrip I met another life-time friend who later on guided me through the impressive Philological Library of Freie Universität Berlin. Such an amazing place!

Consequently, my Master’s studies at KU Leuven in Belgium was my next step in the discovery process of the EUSBSR. My Master thesis was dedicated to analysing the regional authorities who had taken the coordinating roles of the EUSBSR. KU Leuven was where I acquired an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of multi-level governance.

While residing outside of the geographic boundaries of the macro-region, I continued discovering the expertise housed in the Baltic Sea Region. Shortly before the start of my studies at KU Leuven, I attended the Autumn School “Changing Policies and Cultures in Europe and Russia: Environment, Resources, Energy” hosted by the University of Tartu. At the end of my studies at KU Leuven, I had an opportunity to build on my interest in environmental governance during the first Potsdam Summer School “Arctic in the Anthropocene”. This is yet another moment when I should thank one more university in the Baltic Sea Region for its outstanding hospitality. Namely, the University of Potsdam offered a superb wifi connection for my online thesis defence session, which allowed me to skip just one hour of the Summer School’s programme, as well as meet my KU Leuven Master programme’s requirements without encountering any technical challenges.

Why am I stating all these details regarding my academic training? Because I think those (and a Blue Book traineeship at the Macro-Regional Competence Centre of the European Commission) have been crucial stages for the argument presented in the title of this article, namely, that the EUSBSR should be a profoundly transformative initiative. I don’t think that without the earlier stated experiences I would have been so well equipped to work with higher education, research and innovation cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region at the Secretariat of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Without all these building blocks in my academic formation, I would not have such a comprehensive awareness of what arguments and views resonate among people, academics, administrators and policy experts across the Baltic Sea Region. Direct exposure to various situated mindsets has been one of the most valuable experiences shaping my analytical thinking on the future potential of the macro-region.

During the next decade, I invite the EUSBSR implementers to take my journey as an example for a comprehensive view on the EUSBSR, especially the human capital required for its evolution. The first ten years have been characterised by the structure building and evolution of roles within the macro-regional steering framework. I hope that in the future the EUSBSR will be able to embrace more complementarities with other processes in the Baltic Sea Region, thus not only remaining as an additional structural layer of governance but becoming a more integral part of the overall geographical area and various region-building efforts.

Perhaps one example might add some additional clarity to my thought. Over the last month, I have had the pleasure to spend considerable time at the National Library of Latvia. I wish the EUSBSR to become an even better-represented phenomenon in the bookshelves of this iconic building and its peers across the Baltic Sea Region and worldwide.  The promising potential of this wish to come true was shown by the recent opening of the translated edition of the book “The Baltic: A History” in Latvian “Baltijas jūras reģiona vēsture: tirdzniecība un kultūras. It includes concise references to the EUSBSR. A continuous multi-disciplinary academic examination of the EUSBSR in the context of broader processes affecting and shaping the Baltic Sea Region will help to avoid the risk of the Strategy to become an inherently introspective grouping of implementers and/or technical project constellation. I would even argue that the scholarly reflections on the EUSBSR or its certain strands will be instrumental in tailoring the Strategy better fit for longitudinal orientation of multilateral efforts.

Moreover, I put high hopes on the Baltic Science Network’s next Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme’s funded phase called “BSN_Powerhouse” to help to reinvigorate the interaction between higher education and research institutions in the Baltic Sea Region in order to offer students similar opportunities to those that I have enjoyed over the previous years. Those are valuable investments in the future strength of collaborative ties characterising the macro-region. Additionally, I think it will help to ensure a more widespread perception that the Baltic Sea Region is not just a fuzzy geographical location known for sunny seasonal highlights of the beach area, such as the autumn snapshots I have taken this month during my daily bicycle rides to the Vecāķi beach located in the outskirts of Rīga.

Instead, I invite to continue promoting the Baltic Sea Region as a distinct mindset and a shared set of values. This is my response to the question “Macro-Regional Governance: More Ambitions or Different Motivation Needed?” I posed in 2014 in the title of my contribution to the Eyes on Europe. I see a common mindset and values as the key to unleashing the full potential and expectations associated with the EUSBSR. Therefore, I hope that the Baltic Science Network will maintain its potential to build a strong and sustainable epistemic community. What a better way to add more profundity to joint aspirations than offering the next generations of leading academics, administrators and policy-makers an opportunity to broaden their horizons and awareness of collaboration partners in the nearby areas!

Last but not least, in line with my earlier attempts to reach out beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and support shown for connecting the Baltic Sea Region discourses with other relevant intellectual hubs, I’m delighted to present my EUSBSR 10th-anniversary reflections to the Ideas on Europe readers. I hope that this article will encourage readers not familiar with the EU macro-regional strategies and the pioneering EUSBSR to find out more information and engagement opportunities.