Lähialueyhteistyö ja kansalaisjärjestöt - ministeri Enestamin puhe 14.12.2001

Non-Governmental Organisations in the Neighbouring Areas –Seminar
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Seminar room Ritarikatu
Helsinki, Finland

Mr. Jan-Erik Enestam
Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Matters Relating to Adjacent Areas
Neighbouring Area Cooperation; NGO’s

Ladies and Gentlemen, representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations,

We are gathered here, to this seminar, to discuss the future directions of the NGO work within the Neighbouring Area Cooperation and to introduce new instruments in order to strengthen the work done by the NGOs. I am pleased to see so many of you showing interest in this theme.

During the last decades we have witnessed most revolutionary political and economic changes in Europe; opening borders, developing democratic societies and creating possibilities for cooperation and deeper integration of the countries in the region. The changes and the transition of these countries have given new possibilities for the hole region. We can notice that these positive trends have huge impact in the overall global development process as well. There is, however, always a flip side of the coin: As some of us are doing well, there are huge number of Europeans still in need. In this respect, we in Finland think that the role of the NGOs within the framework of the Neighbouring Area Cooperation should have greater role to play. Therefore, I have decided to increase the support for the Finnish NGOs in cooperation with their partners.

Finnish Neighbouring Area Cooperation was established at the beginning of the 1990s in order to respond to the challenges of the political and economic transition process in Central and Eastern Europe. Neighbouring Area Cooperation has become a significant part of Finland’s foreign policy and external economic relations. Neighbouring Area Cooperation is also valued as an integral part in of our overall cooperation. As evidence of this, Neighbouring Area Cooperation has high-level support in the form of Cabinet Committee of Ministers on Neighbouring Areas, led by the Prime Minister.

The main objectives of the Neighbouring Area Cooperation approved by the Finnish government prioritise the stabilisation of democracy, the reinforcement of the rule of law, administrative, economic and legislative reform, the reduction of environmental and nuclear safety risks, and improvement of security. One of the main priorities is health sector, since the state of health has noticeably deteriorated in the adjacent countries.

Finland’s cooperation with the neighbouring areas consists of bilateral cooperation with partner countries, projects under joint financing with international financing institutions and organisations, technical assistance funds, and NGO activities. Non-governmental cooperation makes an important contribution for improving living conditions in the partner countries and areas, achieving positive effects throughout the civil societies, and stimulating the initiative of NGOs. Furthermore, the development of civil society is essential for the respect and protection of human rights. The role of the NGOs has become even more crucial in the advent of the Baltic states becoming member states of the EU family.

The accession the Baltic states will give new challenges for the NGOs in terms of adjusting civil societies into the new demands. I believe that Finland and the Finnish NGOs have a lot to offer in this respect. Finland has recently come through this process after having joined the EU. On the other hand, I believe that the Baltic States have also a lot of useful experience for their respective neighbouring countries. Thus, the continued and sustained dialogue between the Finnish and Baltic NGOs is essential.

One of the aims of this seminar is to make NGO sectors in Latvia and Lithuania known to Finnish NGO’s and to strengthen the cooperation between the countries. I am pleased to welcome the experts from both Lithuania and Latvia, who will disseminate information about the NGO-sector in their respective countries.

Moreover, I want to note that the Finnish initiative for the Northern Dimension of the EU, further developed by the European Commission, has become a concrete Action Plan, adopted by the European Council in July 2000. The Northern Dimension is expected to contribute to reinforcing positive interdependence between EU and its partner countries thereby enhancing security, stability, democratic reforms and sustainable development in the region. In the Action Plan for the Northern Dimension, NGOs are considered as an integral part of the Northern Dimension network.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland has received more than a hundred applications for the Call for Proposal of this year. Most of these project proposals are linked to cooperate with partners from Russia and Estonia. As I mentioned before, we would like to see the cooperation being increased both with Latvia and Lithuania.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I hope and actually believe this seminar will be very productive and fruitful, and will strengthen the cooperation with the Latvian and Lithuanian NGOs. In this seminar, we should establish new contacts and find new ideas, as well as learn about EU and other sources of financing to support the Finnish government assistance in the Neighbouring Area Cooperation.

Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen.