Baltic Sea protection or politics?
Arvamus 24 Jan 2012  EWR
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Heli Saavalainen, Helsingin Sanomat

It is sad that the Fosforit fertiliser factory in Kingisepp has managed to dump massive loads of phosphorus into the Baltic Sea for years without anyone knowing, or saying, anything.

It is even sadder that the Baltic Sea Protection Commission HELCOM has apparently been unwilling to say anything about the emission source that has now been revealed, and has quite obviously dragged its feet in the publication of research results.

Researchers made a sample-taking visit to Russia in the autumn, and the results have certainly been known for quite some time. Still, it was not until the past week that the matter was made public – in a vague manner, making reference to the assumed source of the emissions, and to the need for additional study.

According to the researchers, the source of the phosphorus emissions, a mountain of waste gypsum, was nevertheless undeniable, so now it is time to take action, and not for further study.

Finding a new source of emissions is extremely important from the point of view of the Baltic Sea, as the phosphorus stream leaking into the Luga River from one ditch is a problem about which something can actually can be done.

But it would seem that the problem is politically awkward. Helcom would be happy to bask in the achievements of its work, now that Russia has finally been brought into line. Russia needs to be made to commit to cooperation, and it isn’t nice to anger the neighbour.

In the 1970s, at the time of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, when HELCOM was established, detente prevailed, and everybody was having fun in the Spirit of Helsinki.

But hello! Times have changed. Even in Russia the civic society is showing signs of waking up, and protests have started to rise against the administration which is stomping on civil liberties and freedom of expression.

Programme Director Arkady Moshes at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs was very much to the point in a guest column that he wrote in Helsingin Sanomat on the situation in Russia. He included a message to EU leaders: “They should admit that cooperation is a tool for solving problems, not a political goal as such.” (HS December 12th, 2011).

One might imagine that this would be self-evident in the protection of the Baltic Sea, which cannot move forward without the cooperation of the countries on the shore. The same principle also needs to apply to HELCOM, whose task is to promote the protection of the marine environment.

Naturally, the revelation of a big source of emissions in Russia caused a breach in the pleasant image put forward to the public. It even affects the atmosphere at the ministerial meeting.

However, protection cannot move forward if people bury their heads in the sand as soon as something unpleasant emerges. At stake in the cooperation is the state of the Baltic Sea. Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 21.1.2012
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