Dear Barents friends,
Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Barents cooperation. And we to look to the future.
Much has been achieved.
A spirit of trust and cooperation has paved the way for concrete and historic results.
Both within the Barents cooperation, and between our countries.
Let me start by giving you some examples from Norway’s perspective.
The Russian–Norwegian border is just a few kilometers away from where we are now.
Twenty years ago, less than 8000 people passed through this border crossing every year.
Today, that number is more than 252 000. And we expect as many as 400 000 next year. On the northern Finnish-Russian border we see a similar development.
Today, the border population may cross the border between Norway and Russia without a visa.
Our goal should be visa freedom between all our countries.
Twenty five years ago, we witnessed a cod stock in decline in the Barents Sea.
Today, we have both restored the stock and made the returns much higher.
Together we have eliminated illegal fishing.
Twenty years ago, Norway and Russia were still negotiating the agreement on the maritime delimitation line in the Barents Sea.
In 2010, we finally signed the agreement.
I think Prime Minister Medvedev will agree that the spirit of cooperation and the mutual trust we have built through the Barents cooperation contributed to this historic achievement.
The Barents cooperation is the result of a combination of visionary initiatives here in the North – both at the local and regional level – and bold political determination in capitals.
Those who signed the Kirkenes Declaration back in 1993 were convinced that the Barents cooperation would contribute to international peace and security.
History has proven them right.
With the Barents cooperation, a new way of shaping foreign policy emerged.
And a new way of carrying out foreign policy followed.
People-to-people cooperation was at the centre.
Local and regional governments were directly involved.
And the northern regions themselves – with their indigenous peoples – became the main drivers in promoting cooperation across borders.
This approach has fostered trust.
And it has produced important results.
We have adopted a new declaration,
addressing the future opportunities and challenges in the region.
We must continue to open up borders.
Improve infrastructure. Protect the environment.
And strengthen cooperation within education and research.
And we must manage this region’s immense natural resources in a sustainable way.
Together with valuable human resources, it provides an excellent foundation for enhanced economic activity in the region.
To the benefit of the people in the region and beyond.
All of you who have been part of this cooperation have reason to celebrate today. I congratulate all of you.
But more importantly, a new generation of Barents citizens now has the opportunity to move forward together in the spirit of the Barents cooperation.