The European Investment Bank's 1997 Forum on 'Bridging the Seas in Northern Europe", that ended in Stockholm today, focused on the considerable advance Northern Europe had achieved in developing inter-regional co-operation in preparation of the historic milestones of Economic and Monetary Union and further enlargement of the European Union.

The Forum speakers examined the progress Northern European countries had made to modernise their economy, strengthen links both within the region and with a wider European continental market. Northern Europe is undergoing fundamental changes, with the impact of Sweden and Finland becoming Members of the European Union only three years ago, and other countries in the region are now preparing for wider European integration. Highlighted in particular were the extent to which older historic patterns of co-operation were being re-built and the emergence of common action to protect the shared environmental, cultural and political interests. A strong emphasis was placed on the need to improve and extend communication lines, essential for a healthy sustainable economic development and the need to balance the interests of secure energy requirements with environmental protection and the quality of life.

The Forum brought together over 350 senior government, business and banking officials, who were addressed by over 30 well-know speakers from the European Union and Central and Eastern Europe.

Opening the Forum, EIB President Sir Brian Unwin said the EIB was an important partner in building bridges both literally and metaphysically in the region as promoting integration was at the heart of the EIB's mission. 'The development of Northern Europe is a priority, particularly the physical infrastructure necessary to inter-link the Northern European countries of the Union and link the Central and Eastern European applicant countries with the rest of Europe", he said.

The Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson stated that the Baltic Sea had the potential to become the fastest-growing area in Europe for many years to come. "In this region, there is a combination of rapidly growing young market economies such as Poland, the Baltic states and north-west Russia, and mature economies such as the Nordic countries, which have consolidated their government finances and are now once more on the way up"'.

"As I see it, enlargement of the European Union is of crucial importance to Baltic Sea co-operation. Four more countries in our close neighbourhood are now knocking on the door of the EU, at the same time as the EU's relations with Russia are deepening. That clearly opens new opportunities for co-operation".

The Swedish Finance Minister Erik Åsbrink, as guest speaker for the closing lunch, said that the overriding problem in the mature economies around the Baltic Sea is unemployment. "A broad approach, including efforts n the field of education and training, is necessary in order to improve the functioning of labour markets and to strengthen the position of the individual. I note with satisfaction that reducing unemployment has been confirmed a priority by the European Union.

In the margins of the Forum, the EIB signed loan agreements totalling nearly ECU 360 million (over SEK 3 billion). Investment financed ranged from infrastructure projects including the Öresund fixed link bridge with Sweden and improvement to the road network in Denmark, waste-water treatment works in the Stockholm area, Sweden upgrading and extension of Tallinn Airport in Estonia, to industry sector projects including modernisation of a steel mill in Finland, pharmaceutical research and development investment in Denmark and small and medium sized enterprise ventures in Poland.