Dear colleagues and partners,
I am very pleased to be back in Harstad – and to celebrate 20 years of successful cooperation in the Barents region with you.
Our focus should be on the future – but for a moment let us also look back on our common history. We have concrete and historic results to build on when we now move into the future.
When the Barents Cooperation came about, the Cold War was over. Positive developments had occurred prior to the signing of the Kirkenes Declaration in January 1993, but tensions and unresolved border disputes remained. Cross border contact within the region – not least between Norway and Russia – was still limited even though northern counties and municipalities had initiated cross-border cooperation. It was this locally anchored regional vision that Stoltenberg, Kozyrev, Väyrynen and other foreign ministers were able to give national priority – and geopolitical importance – when they established the Barents Cooperation 20 years ago. This was unique and the timing was perfect.
However, it is demanding to change mental maps. The ambitious cross-border vision was met with scepticism – not least among cynical cold warriors. History has proven them all wrong.
The Barents Cooperation represented a new approach to foreign policy. The primary focus shifted. Army-to army was replaced by people-to-people. The northern regions – with its indigenous peoples – became the main driver in cooperating across borders. Decisions on cross border cooperation were to be made closer to people in the northern regions, often without prior approval from capitals. Inter-personal cooperation developed and started to break down deep-rooted suspicion. Putting people-to-people cooperation first remains a key strength in today’s Barents cooperation.
The overall results have far exceeded our expectations. The Barents Cooperation has been important not just for Norway, not just for the Barents Region. It has been important for Europe – it has served as an example of successful post cold war cooperation across old dividing lines.
As for Norway and Russia, it is obvious that our 2010 agreement on the delimitation line in the Barents Sea was inspired by the atmosphere of increased cooperation and trust driven by the Barents cooperation. The agreement is also demonstrating to the world how neighbours in the High North are able to resolve disagreements: peacefully and based on international law.
Let me then turn to our cooperation today and our ambitions for the future.
Regional authorities, indigenous peoples and Local communities remain vital. This is the DNA of the Barents cooperation which today covers a wide variety of activities, geographically and thematically - ranging from the environment to business to culture.
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters that would affect their rights, their development and their traditional lands. I therefore support a further strengthening of indigenous peoples’ representation within the Barents co-operation.
The facilitation of regionally and locally based cross border cooperation should continue to be the main task for governments in this cooperation.
In doing so I believe there are four areas of the Barents Cooperation which will be of key importance in the years to come.
1. Cross border mobility
2. Education and research
4. Environment and climate change
First, successful cross-border cooperation depends on cross-border mobility. Obstacles create problems for industry, commerce and people-to-people contact. A lot has been accomplished, but further facilitation of cross-border movement of persons, goods and services will and must continue to be a cornerstone.
The method should be the same. Practical and step by step. Such as the simplified Norwegian-Russian local border traffic regulations introduced last year. In this context the experience of our Barents neighbour and Schengen partner Finland has been important for Norway. Finland processed more than 1.2 million visa applications from Russian citizens last year.
Also in Norway we are witnessing a substantial increase in the cross-border traffic.
In 1990, 8000 people crossed the border between Norway and Russia. In 2012, the number was 252 000 people.
Step by step we are moving towards our long-term goal of establishing a visa-free travel regime with Russia.
Second, education and research. The Barents region has with its resources an important potential as an engine for economic growth in Europe. This is a region of resources: Minerals, energy, fisheries and other renewable marine resources. The region is already Europe’s most important supplier of metal, and prospects for increased activity and cooperation in all areas are good. Again – the future role of the Barents-cooperation is to further facilitate activity – and cooperation on education and research will be key.
Skilled and educated citizens from all parts of the Barents Region are needed. In order for us to make use of our common potential we need to stimulate the generation of more knowledge – and the right competence. The populations in the north are relatively small -shared knowledge and strategic cooperation on education and research is vital.
We are on the right track – the number of students in exchange programs and cooperation programs have increased.
Let me give you one example - Russian students registered at Norwegian higher education institutions: In the autumn of 2000 there were 183; in the autumn of 2012 there were 1500. These students contribute to the diversity and quality of Norwegian higher education. And, let me add: they contribute to deeper and broader relations between Russia and Norway.
I am sure other Barents countries can report on similar developments.
What we in particular need to see more of is collaboration on the institutional level across borders. Tighter cooperation among the educational institutions in the North will be a key in developing knowledge and networks needed for efficient exploitation of opportunities and economic cooperation in this region.
The on-going trilateral cooperation between the University in Tromsø, the Northern Federal University in Arkhangelsk and Umeå University can serve as an example of good practice. Together they are building centre of competence in biotechnology, law and pharmacy - areas of importance to the Barents region.
We would like to see this cooperation be expanded with other universities in the Barents, such as the Oulu University in Finland.
Third, enhanced economic activity in the region require improved infrastructure. There is no doubt: east-west networks need to be further strengthened.
This month my government published a White Paper on transport. We plan to strengthen railway lines and cross-border roads in the Barents region.
Increasing the capacity of the Ofoten railway line is one of our priorities – linking Narvik in Norway to Kiruna in Sweden. Today there are 18 trains in each direction – which is less than needed. Our aim is to increase capacity to 27 trains.
At the same time, the upgrading of the E105 road between Kirkenes and Murmansk is continuing on both sides of the border, as a result of close cooperation between the Norwegian and Russian authorities.
The desire to improve transport networks is shared by all the Barents countries. We have therefore taken the initiative to develop a joint transport plan for the whole region, as explained yesterday by Mr. Torbjørn Naimak from our Public Roads Administration. This will be the first joint plan between all Barents countries ever made.
Lastly – but not least: Sustainable development of the resource rich Barents region demands that the limits of the fragile environment and the integrity of the ecosystems in this Region are respected. It is vital to strike the right balance between economic growth, sustainable use of natural resources and responsible exploitation of non-renewables – and within a framework that respect the rights of this regions indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage.
Neither should we forget that some new opportunities in the Barents region are partly a result of climate change. Climate change is bad news for all of us – as we do not know the real long term consequences of it. Therefore, it is vital to integrate the climate dimension into all parts of the Barents Cooperation. We must both adapt and limit the emissions that cause it. This is why we are now developing an action plan for climate change in the Barents region.
The Barents region has a legacy of recourse-related industrial pollution that we still have to deal with. Together, the countries of the Barents region are addressing some of the main environmental problems in the region together, and I am glad to say that the first environmental hotspots have been eliminated. For example, a large quantity of toxic pesticides stored in the Russian Republic of Karelia has been safely destroyed in Finland. The work on further elimination of environmental hot spots is a key task and must continue.
It’s been 20 years since the Kirkenes Declaration was signed.
On 4th of June this year, when our Prime Ministers will meet in Kirkenes, they will sign a new declaration.
The new declaration is not meant to replace, but to supplement the one from 1993.
The model of the Barents cooperation should remain the same – pragmatic, concrete, locally and regionally anchored. Our main job, as national governments, is to provide the framework needed for cross boarder activity and development to prosper.
Input from this conference will form part of the final process to negotiate the declaration. But as highlighted, I believe important emphasis will be on mobility, education, environment, research and infrastructure – Issues of importance to all forms of activity and development in the region.
But in Kirkenes we shall also celebrate – because there is reason for all of us to be proud of what has been accomplished in this part of Europe. The High North represents today a beacon of hope and ambition in Europe. Take employment as an example. In Europe’s most Sothern region Andalucía in Spain, 36 per cent of the work force is out of work. In Europe’s north eastern corner – Sør Varanger county with Kirkenes and the Barents secretariats – the unemployment rate is 1,7 per cent. This is no accident – it represents a trend in the High North compared to the south of Europe.
Finally, let me express our sincere thanks for Parliamentarian’s contributions to shaping the Barents region. Parliamentary involvement has proved to be an important dimension in promoting cooperation across the borders in the North. It is important that you continue to play this role in the time to come.
Thank you for your attention.