I am pleased to be here to continue the high level dialogue between Norway and EU on Arctic affairs. Let me name a few examples: The High Reprsentative Catherine Ashton to Svalbard last March and Commissioner Damanaki to Tromsø this January as well as the talks beetween Prime Minister Stoltenberg and Van Rompuy this February.
I should also mention the Ministerial meeting of The Northern Dimension February 18th here in Brussels. The Northern Dimension is an arena where the Nordic countries, EU and Russia meet on equal footing.
We observe the development of EU Arctic policy. It seems that we increasingly "read from the same page". That is positive. The Arctic is also EU's neighbourhood. We see a rapid change in the Arctic and increased interest from the rest of the world.
We will contunue the constructive cooperation with the EU. We share the commitment for sustainable development, regional cooperation and engaging with Russia.
The dynamic Arctic
The Arctic (High North) is Norway's number 1 foreign policy priority. Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic ocean surrounded by states. In the Arctic there have been human and commercial activity since time immemorial.
The alarming climate change is of course bad news to all of us. Ice cover extent is record low. But the meltinhg of the ice also provides new opportunities and access to new natural resources like petroleum and minerals. In addition, new shipping routes (The Northeast passage) emerge as a consequence of the melting ice and more open waters. Even though ther are still a limited number of sailings through the Northe Sea Route, it is on the rise. The route provides big savings in terms of costs and time. But harsch weather conditions and remotness, and darkness and ice many months of the year, are still challenges. Also Arctic tourism is on the rise due to climate change.
Integrated and ecosystem based marine management is the key in finding the right balance between environmental concerns and economic activity.
We also have international cooperation on fisheries management. The Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea stocks are among best managed in the world.
In the Arctic we also have the legal framework in place. There is international consensus that the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) applies to the Arctic Ocean. That provides clarity and predictability.
There are only a few unresolved issues left. The 2010 Norway Russia Maritime Delimitation Treaty and the Danish/ Canadian agreement on Lincoln Sea last year were important milestones. Solutions based on UNCLOS.
The Arctic Council
We also have the political framework in place in the Arctic. The Arctic states take responsibility. The Arctic Council is the only circumpolar forum for political cooperation at government level.
The Arctic states recognise rights and responsibilities, and they have been successful in agreeing on a binding agreement on search and rescue. A new oil spill preparedness instrument is about to be signed.
The Council have got a new permanent secretariat in Tromsø - the Arctic capital of Norway. This gives political significance to the Council, and strengthen its administrative capacity.
The Arctic regional institutions like the Barents Cooperation and the EUs Northern Dimension also show increased interaction between countries, municipalities, companies and people in the North, including with Russia.
The Arctic is in many senses an arena free from East-West confrontation where common interests on cooperation and sustainable development to seize opportunities are at the core.
A milestone this year is the Summit in Kirkenes 3-4 June on the 20 years' anniversary of the Barents Cooperation.
"High North, low tension"
Classical security policy have played an essential role in the security in the Arctic. 5 Arctic member states are NATO countries. Increasing situation awareness.
Nordic Cooperation also relevant. Nordic declaration of solidarity (5 April 2011) - Pooling & Sharing Resources (Smart Defence).
Military presence promotes stability, predictability and emergency response. Norwegian Coast Guard moved North and Joint Head Quarter place in Bodø.
In the Arctic we have to look at a broad interpretation of security. Increased human activity provides higher risk of accidents and environmental degradation and larger maritime areas for surveillance.
We have made great efforts so far in civil monitoring and communication technology. Let me mention Barents Watch, Galileo, Svalsat.
Russia is the most important arctic state with major legitimate interests in the region in terms of her population, coastline and resources.
I believe it is also Russia's interest to maintain low tension. Current cooperative and legal framework in the Arctic, simply promotes and defends Russian interests.
The presence of strategic forces is not sign of regional tension. But it is important to follow military developments closely.
NATO membership and EU relation have created clarity in relation to the USSR and to Russia. Joint fisheries commission and border regime.
Norway's bilateral cooperation with Russia is close and constructive. The Norwegian Defence Minister visited Moscow recently.
We have good bilateral relationship with Russia. Our cooperation is broadening and deepening in many sectors like the military, research and fisheries. But let me also be clear today that I am also concerned about the internal developments in Russia when it comes to media, human rights and civil society.
New actors: No challenge to the existing framework
We see increased interest for the Arctic from Asian states like South Korea, Singapore, Japan, India and China. It is understandable. The impacts of developments in the Arctic are global, like the new sea routes, environmental science and resource management.
The driving forces behind the increased interest are first and foremost commercial and research oriented.
Do the new actors challenge the existing framework? I believe it is important to follow the developments and understand new actors' interests. As an example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports research project on Asian Interests in the Arctic.
Let me be clear that Norway supports new permanent observers. We believe they will strengthen the Arctic Council's role and that we can profit from the expertise of non-Arctic states.
As you know, some Arctic states are sceptic to include all new applicants. Norway aims for consensus on positive decision (one package) at the Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Kiruna 15 May this year.
EU Arctic policy
Norway welcomes the joint communication on the Arctic from the Commission and EEAS from June 2012. It shows a stronger engagement on Arctic issues through cooperation and dialogue with Arctic states, which is very positive. The EUconfirms existing legal framework as basis for Arctic governance, and highlights three areas where EUs contribution can be particularly valuable:
- sustainable development,
- engagement with Arctic states
- and indigenous peoples
I believe this is a good basis for developing a more comprehensive EU approach to the Arctic region and a common understanding of developments in the Arctic.
The Arctic is characterised by cooperation and respect for international legal order. Both the legal and the political framework are in place. Hence, there are no race for resources among states.
Norway's objectives in the Arctic is to maintain a stable and secure Arctic and to manage resources and the environment in a sustainable manner.
Our most valuable resource in the Arctic is the human being. And knowledge is the basis for sustainable development and seizing the opportunities in the Arctic (High North).
My government will continue to exercise sovereignty in a consistent and predictable manner. We will still be a driving force for cooperation with other countries in a spirit of openness and trust.
We see the EU as an important and constructive partner to achieve these goals.