The Baltic Sea Region today: some facts on the territorial development

The Baltic Sea Region (BSR) covers a vast geographical area with the Baltic Sea as a focal point. Traditionally the sea has been connecting the region, being the main mean of transportation and trade. While the regions share history and have many similarities, there are also differences.

Differences in population density show a clear north-south pattern with the sparsely populated north and the densely populated south. There is also still an east-west divide in terms of economic performance, although the divide has been closing. The BSR has developed from a divided region (e.g. Cold War, German divide) into a prosperous region with a dense network of cooperation arrangements.

The analysis of the socioeconomic trends, and the identification of the main development factors of the region, were the starting point of the territorial scenarios that the ESPON project BT 2050 developed. This analysis revealed some interesting socio-economic trends and the factors that shape development in the area:

Modest population increase with polarization towards urban areas

  • Although the BSR had a slight population increase between 2000 and 2018, most regions experienced a population decline. This is mainly the case for rural regions, continuing the long trend of depopulation of the rural areas.
  • The BSR has 135 Functional Urban Areas – FUA (with more than 55 000 inhabitants), which had a 3.4% population growth between 2010 and 2017, the rest of the BSR had a population decline of 2% during the same period. FUA’s make out 63% of the total population of the BSR.

The North-South population divide persists

  • The main urban areas are located in southern Poland and around Hamburg and Berlin in Germany. Denmark is also relatively densely populated. For the whole BSR, the population density is 43 inhabitants/km2, which is significantly lower than the EU average of 115 inhabitants/km2. The population density varies significantly between the different BSR countries with the highest in Germany (172 inhabitants/km2) and the lowest in Finland (17 inhabitants /km2). Still, there are also big regional differences, and, e.g. there are parts of Germany (BSR) with population density below 40 inh./ km2.

International migration has influenced the demographic development in different ways

  • Rural depopulation slowed down in the countries that received international migrants in 2015-2016. Between 2015-2016 almost all parts of Germany and Sweden had a positive net migration During the same period, Denmark and Norway had positive net migration in the majority of municipalities. The other BSR countries experienced the opposite pattern with more municipalities having net out-migration. The exception is the bigger cities indicating that the migration flows from peripheral and rural areas toward the largest cities continue.

Settlement structure and urban-rural relations

  • The BSR doesn’t have any megacities (> 10 million inhabitants). The biggest cities are Saint Petersburg and Berlin, both with more than five million inhabitants in the functional urban areas. 14 cities have more than one million inhabitants. The Nordic cities are in general located along the coast or along important transport corridors radiating out from the main metropolitan areas.
  • The bottom left map shows the 135 largest functional urban areas (FUAs) in the BSR. Of these 135 more than half (75) are located just in Poland and Germany. The FUA’s make out 63% of the total population of the BSR, for Germany and Poland this share is only slightly higher with 66%.
  • The main difference is the higher density of cities in the southern part of the BSR that also implies a more polycentric structure. For the vast majority of regions in the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Russia and Belarus, no large city or only one such city is within reach. In contrast, residents in Southern Sweden and Finland, Denmark, Germany and Poland have a considerably higher number of large cities within commuting distance.
  • The urban networks are stronger in the densely populated countries of Germany, Denmark and Poland. Poland is the country with most cities and strong urban connectivity. However, the population is growing faster in the Nordic and Belarussian FUAs than in the rest of the BSR.
  • Large cities function as regional centres with their services reaching beyond the administrative borders to surrounding smaller municipalities and rural areas. Thereby urban-rural relations are stronger in the countries with higher population density and a great number of cities or FUAs.

You can find a short summary of the findings and a presentation with a collection of maps in our Press Release and the full final report and annexes in the page of the programme