“It might have taken some time, but I can guarantee you that we are now wide awake on Arctic issues”, President Niinistö underlined in an open lecture held in Oslo this Thursday. The Finnish president’s state visit lasts for three days and also includes a visit to the northern Norwegian city of Tromsø.
Niinistö, a former finance minister and justice minister, in his speech highlighted that Finland and Norway now “need to recognize and exploit each other’s potentials” and that “Norway is Finland’s key partner in the Arctic”.
Although neighboring countries cooperating closely within the frames of Nordic and European affairs, Oslo and Helsinki have never really felt very close. That might be about to change. “We should set more ambitious goals for bilateral relations”, the president underlined in his speech.
The visit of the Finnish head of state comes at a time when the two countries face a new era in Arctic affairs. Rapid ice melting, more shipping, expanding oil drilling and growing environmental concerns put both countries head to head with a new set of challenges and opportunities. Although not an Arctic coastal state, Finland has major parts of its territory, population and economy in the north and is actively promoting its Arctic policy.
As reported by BarentsObserver, Finland in 2010 adopted its Arctic Strategy. The country is also actively lobbying in Brussels to get the projected EU Arctic Information Center to Rovaniemi, the main city in Arctic Finland.
For Finland, closer relations to Norway is of growing importance because of the latter’s long Arctic coast and its access to offshore raw materials. Finland has an advanced shipbuilding industry and is world-leading within research on shipping in icy conditions. At the same time, Finnish industry is rapidly developing major mineral and metal deposits in the northern parts of the country and increasingly looks towards the Arctic for new export routes. While the shipbuilders would like to team up with the Norwegian oil industry, the miners in Finnish Lapland would like a new railway to be built to the Arctic coast, possibly to the to the Norwegian town of Kirkenes.
Niinistö in his speech made clear that the development of infrastructure and logistics constitutes a key element in his country’s Arctic policy, and followed up saying that “there is only a short distance from Finland to Kirkenes”.
For Norway, successful EU-member Finland is a key partner in European affairs. It is also increasingly an ally in foreign policy and security relations. A report on Nordic security cooperation from 2009 proposes a number of measures on strengthened cooperation and “these measures are now being taken”, Niinistö said today.
In the background lures both Finland’s and Norway’s increasingly complex relationship with Russia. Stronger cooperation will benefit all the Nordic neighbors, both in Arctic affairs, in Europe and in relations with Russia.