PASSAGE partners were happy to host, on 6 September in Tallinn, one of the first local events of the European Week of Regions and Cities 2017. A great opportunity for PASSAGE partners to exchange with local stakeholders and politicians from the Finnish and Estonian shores of the Gulf of Finland about a key topic when it comes to cross-border cooperation on maritime borders: connecting people.

Mr Mart Võrklaev, member of the European Committee of the Regions and mayor of Rae municipality (Estonia), was chairing this meeting as part of the official programme of the European Week of Regions and Cities 2017. Another event will take place in Brussels on 10 October, focusing on "Regional and intermediate policy makers, drivers for maritime cooperation" (registration open until 27 September).

Ms Krista Katriina Kiuru, member of Finnish Parliament, former Minister of Housing, Communications and Education, emphasized the great links already existing between populations on both shores of the Gulf of Finland. "We are sharing our culture together", she explained, "each Finn has at least one Estonian friend". The tunnel project between Helsinki and Tallinn, currently explored thanks to Interreg VA Central Baltic funding (FinEst Link project), is seen as a great opportunity to reinforce this integration.

"If we could organise our transportation better across the Gulf, we wouldn't just be the same region as we see it at the moment (...) but maybe (...) we could be really the same labour market", explained Ms Kiuru.

Ms Yoko Alender, member of Estonian parliament, highlighted the key issue around the tunnel project: "At the end of the day, it's all about the people: connecting people. (...) What kind of possibility would it give to the people if there was a fixed link? (...) How would they be living the Twin-Cities' life?".

Professor Christian Wichmann Matthiessen shared his knowledge of the Øresund bridge experience, which resulted to an on-going integration of the labour market. It is clear that the bridge contributed to reduce migration between Copenhagen and Malmö but also to increase commuting between the two cities. Thinking more globally to the current trends in Europe, Pr. Matthiessen expressed a new emerging antinomy: "we are taking away the sea barrier [with fixed links] but in the same time we reestablish temporary border control: how interesting is that?".

The debate was closed by a panel session, around a central question: is connecting people and increasing commuting a good thing for low-carbon development or shouldn't we just stay at home and only use digital tools?

For Mr Rain Kooli, journalist in Estonian National Broadcasting and Finnish freelance journalist, it is clear that "the Finnish Gulf has became an unavoidable obstacle". "Most often, when I'm asked 'where are you from?' I say I'm from Talsinki, because I'm both Finnish and Estonian, I have two identities and I just can't pick up one of them", he explained to illustrate how much the twin-cities are interconnected in the heart of people. Ms Krista Kampus, head of the Sustainable Development Unit of Baltic 2030, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, agreed that "transport is a pre-condition for more active collaboration between public authorities, companies and people". Ms Kampus also highlighted that "the availability of information and exchange of information is key: it's about knowing our priorities and share an identity. (...) From the Finnish side, the Gulf of Finland is the Pacific Ocean! From the Estonian side, it's just the Baltic Sea...". Ms Merike Niitepõld, head of Managing authority of INTERREG VA Central Baltic programme, explained that for her "the differences are what moves people. The EU talks about 'obstacles' to cooperation (...) but in our region we don't think about obstacles: we think we are one region with many reasons that motivate the cooperation".