Despite early initiatives during the 1960s and 1970s, and continuing efforts ever since, the Baltic Sea remains in poor condition. The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) is the governing body tasked with protecting the marine environment from further deterioration through intergovernmental collaboration between the Baltic Sea states and the EU. In 2007, HELCOM launched a new tool – the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), of which the so-called ecosystem approach is a cornerstone. However, how and why the BSAP reform was launched, and also what consequences such management reforms can have for transboundary resource management, is unknown.
By using institutional theory, organizational theory and the advocacy coalition framework, in combination with content analysis of official documents derived from HELCOM, this thesis argues that the BSAP is the end result of a gradual process of change within institutional structures and actor beliefs. This thesis also shows that HELCOM's capacity to detect, process, and react in response to changes in its regulatory objective has not changed as a consequence of the BSAP. In contrast to earlier research, it seems HELCOM responds better to slow and opaque changes than to quick and visible ones. Finally, by comparing HELCOM with two other similar cases, the thesis shows that HELCOM's adaptive capacity could be improved in line with the recommendations of the ecosystem approach.
This thesis illustrates the importance of studying the emergence of new tools for governing transboundary resources from several theoretical perspectives. The thesis uses an innovative quantitative content analysis and concludes that new methods might be required to enable such studies. The different perspectives used here give various explanations concerning the causes and consequences of the BSAP. In a future Baltic Sea, where environmental changes are likely to be abrupt, a multitude of understandings regarding the governance of the Baltic Sea will be crucial.