The need for streamlining the different regional organizations working in the High North has been highlighted by the Foreign Ministers of the Barents member states for years. They often meet. Many of the issues on the agendas are similar from meeting to meeting. In the Arctic Council, the Barents Council, the Baltic Council, the EU’s Northern Dimension and in the Nordic Council.
Russia does not meet permanently in the two last, but has extensive cooperation and funding programs with both EU’s Northern Dimension and the Nordic Council of Ministers.
At last week’s session in the Nordic Council, Norway took over the Presidency and announced one important step for closer integration in the work of the different inter-governmental organizations. In the program announced to be carried out during the Presidency, Norway will make a dedicated focus area on ways to form cooperation in the north.
"Amongst other things, we want to sort out the opportunities for increased economic co-operation in the Barents Region", says Marit Nybakk. She was elected President at the session in Helsinki where Norway took over the presidency from Finland.
A year ago Norway took over the chair of the Barents council after Sweden.
The joint communiqué from the Barents ministerial meeting in Kiruna last October stresses the need for synergies and making an effective division of labour between the regional councils in the north and other structures of relevance for cooperation and development in the Barents Region.
Norway’s then-Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, made it very clear at the Kiruna meeting that streamlining the different organizations is needed to ensure more effective interaction and creative synergies. In his address to the Barents Council Støre said:
“Finally, it is our aim to coordinate the work in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region with other regional organizations and bodies, the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Northern Dimension.”
The Norwegian government is simultaneously downplaying traditional Barents projects for development of contacts and trust with Russia. These so-called people-to-people projects were earlier said to be the core of the success in the menu of tools for the post-Cold War Barents Cooperation.
Norway’s recent White Paper on the High North reads: “In the Government’s view, projects whose primary objective is the development of contacts and trust across national borders can now be given lower priority in favour of projects that have more direct significance for the improvement of living conditions for the inhabitants of the region. Priority will be given to projects designed to enhance economic ties and growth with a view to strengthening the basis for employment and settlement.”
The Prime Ministers of Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden will meet in Kirkenes in early June next year to sign a new declaration updating the frame for the future Barents Cooperation.