Opening speech by Nils Svartz, MSB

Nils Svartz, Senior Advisor at MSB ©MSB

Speech by Nils Svartz, Senior Advisor at MSB (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency), on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise, Karlskrona, Sweden, 27 August 2018


Dear marine pollution and civil protection experts, dear friends!

Living here on the shoreline of the world’s most beautiful sea is a commitment and it requires obligations from us. The Baltic Sea is not only one of the most environmentally sensitive seas but also one of the most heavily trafficked seas in the world.

The overwhelming forest fires in Sweden this summer really made us aware of the value and importance of international cooperation and the EU Civil protection mechanism. We cannot cope on our own when something big happens. We need to assist each other.

As we also heard from Swedish Coast Guard DG Therese Mattsson macro-regional cooperation does make a lot of sense. That is true both at sea and on shore when it comes to oil spill response. We heard that preparedness, cooperation and coordination are key to success. We can see that … But, at the same time it is challenging – we have a lot in common in the region, but there are also differences that we must be aware of and address openly.

Sweden stands out a bit from the rest of the Baltic Sea countries with our highly decentralised governance. The local governance has deep historical roots and is a cornerstone of the democracy in Sweden.

These differences are similar between the marine pollution and civil protection systems in Sweden. Marine pollution is managed by one stakeholder: the Swedish Coast Guard. However, the emergency preparedness system is primarily built on the principle of responsibility, which means that whoever is responsible for an activity in normal conditions should maintain that corresponding responsibility, as well as initiating cross-sectorial cooperation, during major emergencies.

So this means that our 290 municipalities in Sweden are to a large extent responsible for questions that will fall under central governance in other Baltic countries. This is the reason why there are so many involved stakeholders on shore on the Swedish side. Looking at Swedish civil protection system from another perspective I assume it may seem chaotic and ineffective comparing to the more linear way things are done at sea, and in other countries?

We are however proud of our system. The decisions that come out of a consensus mentality are in general strong and well-anchored among the involved stakeholders. But we are also aware that our system is a challenge for us when it comes to cooperation in general and cross-border cooperation in particular.

To make things easier we have central and regional authorities who have supporting and assisting roles for the municipalities. These are mainly MSB and the County Administrative Boards. Our authorities do not take over the responsibility from the municipalities but we can assist with such things as cooperation and coordination before and during a major emergency.

An important tool to overcome some of these obstacles and find common ground, is joint training – at many different levels. We need to be prepared and trained together, we need to know each other and the ways we are dealing with emergencies, we need to know our resources and we need to be coordinated. Cross-border projects and exercises help us to be better prepared for the emergencies in the future.

As we heard from Swedish Coast Guard DG Therese Mattsson we have a long history of international exercises at sea in the Baltic Sea. This is already the 29th Balex Delta exercise! Fantastic! The cooperation at sea is very well-functioning, perhaps because it’s a rather straight forward matter. It involves only a few national actors and each country is working according to the same manual and the countries have more or less a shared mind-set.

However, when we come near to the shore the picture changes dramatically. Suddenly we have a large amount of concerned actors with different part of the responsibility, we have several different legislations to deal with simultaneously and it’s an overall very complex situation.

Table top exercises are cost efficient way to create important networks for future cooperation and to learn more about each other. Cross-border cooperation on shore is still very new to us. Only a few such exercises have been conducted in the region. The Balex Delta 2018 project has an ambition to help bridge the gap between marine pollution and civil protection and for that we have been awarded flagship status by the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. That is something to be proud of!

Finally, I want to take the chance to remind all the exercise participants at sea and on shore to try to think of your selves as pieces of that bridge. Try to maintain an overall picture instead of focusing solely on your own role at sea or on shore. Try to see the scenario as one incident and one response operation – instead of one at sea and one on shore.

With those words I wish you all a very fruitful exercise tomorrow and the rest of the week!