Speech by Minister Soini at the Arctic Frontiers Conference

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø, Norway, 25 January 2016.

Building on positive experience at the top of the world

Dear colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you, Minister Brende, for your invitation to join the Arctic Frontiers Conference here in Tromsø. Your remarks made it clear that the Arctic is a top priority for you, and so it is for me.

Let me start by highlighting a key milestone for the future development of the Arctic.

It was the successful conclusion of the climate negotiations in Paris a month ago. The Paris agreement is of utmost importance for the Arctic region, its nature and inhabitants. It gives us hope that doomsday prophecies can be replaced with more promising prospects.

We now can promote growth and safeguard the environment of the Arctic at the same time.

All that has been achieved in the Arctic is based on good cooperation. This year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council, and for a very good reason. Its evolution as an international forum has been remarkable.

Can the first 20 years of the Arctic Council be described as a success or a partial success? The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We have a stable forum for cooperation which can address the challenges that lie ahead. A forum where all the Arctic countries and the Arctic Indigenous Peoples participate. This is the kind of cooperation that we need to address future challenges.

The United States will chair the Arctic Council until 2017, and then hand over the chairmanship to Finland. We are preparing our chairmanship program for 2017-19, and we want it to be a program that will be shared and owned by all the members of the Arctic Council

The Arctic has been depicted as a region where the risk of military confrontation is particularly low. This is still true, and we want it to be the case also in the future.

There is a strong argument for all the members of the Arctic Council and observers as well to work closely in order to avoid unnecessary tensions in Artic issues.

In practice, I am happy to note, in Northern Europe there have been very few signs of concern in Arctic and Northern cooperation.

Finland successfully concluded her two-year chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. In October, I handed over the chairman’s gavel to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Oulu, when Russia took over the chairmanship of the Barents Council.

Key topics during the Finnish Barents Euro-Arctic Chairmanship were traffic, logistics, the environment and climate change as well as youth cooperation.

In October the Arctic countries succeeded in finalizing the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. This is an outstanding example of how an Arctic initiative is brought to a successful conclusion in spite of the tense international situation.

The Arctic economic landscape is constantly changing, and this creates new opportunities. Shipping in the Arctic is increasing. Enterprises seek new markets. The demand for expertise to operate in cold climate is growing. Now we must seize the opportunity to build the future Arctic economy in a sustainable way.

This we can do if we take the following into account:

Sustainable development must be based on best available scientific knowledge supported by research and education. We should aim to make the top of the world a place for people to live and prosper.

It is vital to seek and use state-of-the-art technology for the demanding Arctic conditions. This requires caution as well as continuous testing and training.

We need to also have consensus among partners that we all keep to the high standards in order to avoid environmental catastrophes in the Artic.

Let me take up one example of a high tech, state-of-the art product: icebreakers. Since the 1960’s all Finnish harbors have been kept open all year round by Finnish-built icebreakers. 60% of the world’s icebreakers are made in Finland, and the companies constantly develop and test to make them better for diverse conditions.

Innovations and commercial applications for Arctic conditions are under constant development. However, more investments, like in the communications networks and services, are essential for the development of the Arctic. More joint-up actions are needed across the borders. When we are exploiting our common goods beyond national jurisdiction we need to make an extra effort to work together. This shows that we take our responsibility for the Artic seriously.

In Artic cooperation one particular dimension is the representation of the Indigenous Peoples in the Council. It is also the key for its success. We all need to listen carefully to the messages from the people living in the Arctic.

Last weekend I had a chance to visit Northern Finland. People are very proud of their heritage and they are eager to develop their businesses if they have a chance to do so.

Finland, Sweden and Norway have several new possibilities to increase their cooperation as was pointed out in the study “Growth from the North” published a year ago. I call upon both the private and public sectors in our countries to act together on the recommendations of this important report.

You can rest assured that the Arctic –the top of the world– remains a top priority of the Finnish Government.