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5th BMDA Annual Conference

May 10, 2007 12:00 AM to
May 11, 2007 12:00 AM

5th BMDA Annual Conference

The 5th Annual BMDA Conference “Future of the Region – People Behind the Prosperity” held on May 10-11th 2007 at BI Norwegian School of Management in Oslo, Norway attracted participants from 15 countries all over Europe. A positive and sincere evaluation and inspiring comments provided by all the participants of the Conference lets to believe that the Conference was successful.

By turning traditional thinking on its head, Ritva Nousiainen, Cooperation Secretary from Haparanda-Tornio, created the most vivid image of the recent BMDA 5th Annual Conference.   All she did was show a map of her twin-town, astride the Swedish-Finnish border at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, but with the map reversed.   In this view, Tornio-Haparanda sits in the middle of an arc from Archangel in Russia, through Murmansk to Hammerfest and Tromsø in Norway.   As we heard, if global warming continues, and Russia is relatively friendly to the West, the Barents Sea could be the shorter route to China which would help all the northern Nordic countries speed up their deliveries to Asia. 

Clearly, the small nations at the top of the world share many challenges.   Aging populations, lack of workers, immigration from the developing world, all of these pose questions which were addressed during the conference.   But the participants also learned about some of the innovative and inspired solutions which are creating new prosperity in the region.

Norway’s leading political TV commentator, Hans-Wilhelm Steinfeld, set the scene for lively discussions amongst the participants by addressing the subject of Russia and its neighbours.  Those present were from countries as diverse as the Netherlands and Georgia, Ukraine and Belgium, as well as the other Baltic neighbours, Sweden, Finland and Poland.   Speakers came from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Russia, with the most exotic being a French woman from Martinique, living in Norway and running an agency on immigration and integration.

In addition to the Tornio-Haparanda story, which is an inspiring ‘tale of two cities’, with two languages, two time zones, two currencies, working together for the benefit of their citizens, there was a presentation on the Öresund project from Sweden and Denmark.   On a larger scale, this is also a demonstration of logical rationalisation of services and industries, built around the Öresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö.   Not only has this linked the two countries in terms of travel and communications.   It has also seen the creation of the Öresund University, which brings together 12 Danish and Swedish universities.   There is a joint logistics platform for the Öresund region.   And, returning to the topic of people, it has enabled the region’s citizens to choose their work and residence in terms of individual benefit;  140,000 commuters cross the bridge every morning, mainly residing in Sweden, where the housing is more reasonable, to work in Denmark, where the salaries are higher and the taxes lower.

From a dream at the beginning of the 20th century, this project illustrates many of the themes which the participants addressed in scenario-building workshops.   What will happen to our region in the coming years?   How will we deal with the challenges posed by education?   How will we cope with emigration of our own population and the lack of workers, perhaps replaced by immigrants very different from ourselves?   What about tolerance?   Can social engineering help?   What will be our response to the changing environment, whether economic or climate?   And how will our new networked world enable us to cope?

As always, the members of the BMDA were active and imaginative in their approach to building the various scenarios.   Positive outcomes are indeed possible, it was agreed, but only if the countries around the Baltic Sea grasp in time the extent of the interaction needed, and are willing to work together.   Muddling through is not good enough, and society must take the initiative to push for proactive policies on the part of all the stakeholders in our region.

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