Foreign Minister Tuomioja: Challenges - a way ahead

Address by Mr Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, at the Meeting of Foreign Ministers for the Northern Dimension Luxemburg 9 April, 2001

We are very pleased with the progress achieved on the Northern Dimension during the Swedish EU-Presidency. The Northern Dimension has long ago ceased to be an initiative of only one EU member state. We also welcome the active role the Commission has taken in implementing the Action Plan.The Commission should continue to have a leading role in the implementation according to the Feira conclusions.

This meeting is the first high level stock taking of the implementation on the Northern Dimension Action Plan. We find it important that the full progress report preperaed by the Commission and the Presidency for the Gothenburg Council will include follow up in all sectors.

The main focus in the aftermath of the Feira Council has been on environment, nuclear safety, energy, fight against organised crime and Kaliningrad. These sectors are of extreme importance and we welcome the progress achieved in all of them.In addition to these sectors we emphasise the significance of public health and communicable diseases, forest co-operation, ICT, cross-border cooperation as well as research and education.

After more than two years of negotiations we still don’t have MNEPR agreement in sight. At some point negotiations were already proceeding into right direction, but during the latest round last week in Berlin there turned out yet to be new obstacles from the Russian side. We must now do our utmost to conclude the negotiations without any further delay. The agreement should be ready for signing during the Swedish EU Presidency.

In the fiels of nuclear safety it should be pointed out that the improvement of reactor safety in civil nuclear plants in the vicinity of the EU-Russia border is a clear priority for the EU. The efforts of the Union to ensure energy supplies by increasing cooperation with Russia is a central aspect of the Northern Dimension.

Kaliningrad is one opportunity in the Northern Dimension. However, it is also important that we pay attention to trans-border cooperation between the EU and the other regions in the NW Russia. The EU-Russian border is the deepest socio-economic dividing line at least in Europe, if not in the whole world.

Active participation and commitment of all the partners is needed to take Northern Dimension forward. We particularly welcome the representatives of USA, Canada and the IFI’s in this conference.

Financing of Northern Dimension activities

Closer co-operation among the EU instruments, the programmes of the International Financial Institutions and the member state and partner country programmes is a key issue in the succesful implementation of the Northern Dimension Action Plan. Taking into consideration that the Northern Dimension projects should be financed by using the existing instruments and resources it is very important that the administrative and programming mechanisms of these instruments pay due attention to the recommendations of the Action Plan.

We welcome the Commission guidelines on alignment of Interreg and Tacis funding. This is a concrete step forward, and we hope that the guidelines will also in practise help to enhance the efficiency of these programmes. We encourage the Commission to continue to develop concrete ideas of medium and longer term developments in this process. Next steps should further enhance interoperability of Tacis, Interreg and the support instruments for enlargement.

It would also be important to further strenghten the participation of the loval and regional actors in the assesment and priorization of Tacis projects in their region. In this regard we would like to point out “Our Common Border” programme, prepared by the Interreg III A Karelia regions in Finland and the Karelian authorities in Russia under between Interreg and Tacis.

We fully support the idea of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership proposed by the EBRD. The partnership could lead into new innovations and efficiency in preparing and financing bigger projects in the field of environment, such as the St Petersburg and Kaliningrad waste water treatment facilities. We encourage the NIB and NEFCO to continue their active involvement in Northern Dimension projects.

Review and follow-up

Since the Northern Dimension Action Plan covers the timeframe until the year 2003 a regular stock-taking mechanism is needed in a format, that includes also the partner countries and the IFI’s. Regular progress reports by the Commission and the EU presidency would get our full support. We have already requested the Commission to include in the 2002 preliminary draft budget for the Union a possible financial statement of the resources available for the implementation of the Northern Dimension Action Plan.

Northern Dimension Senior officials level and Ministerial confererences should be organised regularly to provide political guidance and to involve partner countries and the IFI’s. The Council working group on Eastern Europe and Central Asia could also be convened once during each EU presidency in the spesific Northern Dimension format (15 + 7) to discuss the Northern Dimension Action. Ministers could meet in this format every two years for example in connection with the EU General Affairs Council. We would also encourage expert meetings in priority areas for example in environment and ICT.

The role of regions and sub-regions in the Northern Dimension is important and they have already actively contributed to the implementation through seminars highlighting priority areas. For the NGO’s and the private sector we feel it would be useful also to arrange Northern Dimension Forums.

Arctic circumpolar cooperation

Finland is the chairman of the Arctic Council until 2002. We have prepared a written contribution to this Conference titled “The Arctic Window of the Northern Dimension”.

The Northern Dimension Action Plan includes an Arctic agenda. Closer cooperation between the EU and the Arctic Council would facilitate implementation of this agenda. Permanent observer status for the European Commission in the Arctic Council would establish a long-term partnership between the Community and the Council. Such a partnership would open an Arctic Window for the European Union.

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