* Baltic strategy priority for Sweden EU presidency
* Energy links for Baltic states key
* Could be model for other regions
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, June 10 The European Commission has
thrown its weight behind a Swedish push to clear the Baltic Sea
of pollutants, to encircle it with power cables, and to protect
against the risk of oil tanker collisions.
The European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region will
be a priority for Sweden, which takes the helm of the EU's
rotating presidency from July, and could pave the way for
similar projects in the Danube region and Mediterranean.
Among the Baltic's many challenges are heavy pollution by
fertilisers and human waste, its isolation from European energy
supplies and the huge disparity between rich countries like
Sweden and Denmark and neighbours to the east.
The chief focus of the strategy, launched by the European
Commission on Wednesday, is weaning eastern Baltic nations off
their heavy dependence on Russian gas, which will be exacerbated
when Lithuania shuts down its ageing Ignalina nuclear plant
later this year.
One key project is the 350-kilometre long NordBalt power
cable from Sweden to Lithuania, which could be completed by
Another cable, the 800 megawatt Estlink-2 cable, will be
built between Finland and Estonia and could be brought online by
2013. Power grids will also be strengthened in Sweden, Lithuania
and Latvia, EU diplomats said.
All new power links would be backed by a common Baltic
energy trading market to be set up by 2013 that would probably
be guided by the existing rules of the Scandinavian Nord Pool
"It marks a new way of working together in the Union," said
European commissioner for regional policy Danuta Hubner. "It
does not imply new laws or institutions, but is rather based of
the will of governments and citizens."
Many of the 80 projects in the strategy will be covered by
around 50 billion euros ($70.6 billion) of existing EU funding
for the region between 2007 and 2013, such as a 4 billion euro
plan agreed in March to bolster the EU's energy connections.
At the heart of the Baltic's environmental problems are its
stagnant waters, often uninhabitable for fish due to the rampant
growth of algae, nourished on detergents, poorly treated sewage
and fertiliser run-off from farms.
Sweden estimated the benefits from tackling nutrient
pollution such as phosphates and nitrates could reach 2 billion
euros a year due to improved fishing and tourism.
But the strategy will not take on the planned Nord Stream
pipeline to carry Russian gas to Germany along the Baltic
seabed, a project that is opposed by many in Poland and
Earlier suggestions of melding all national coastguard
agencies into one overarching Baltic Sea Coast Guard have been
dropped, a Commission source said.
Instead, the national agencies will aim for tighter
coordination to deal with the risk of collisions between the
many oil tankers steaming through and the dozens of fast
(Reporting by Pete Harrison)