Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja: "Northern Dimension works: Challenges and success stories of interregional cooperation in Northern Europe"
Dear seminar participants,
It gives me a great pleasure to address you in this seminar on the Northern Dimension and the cooperation in Northern Europe here in Brussels. I find it positive that the different players of the Northern Finland and Sweden are working together in advancing the interregional cooperation and the goals of the Northern Dimension.
My impression is that we have come a long way since the first Northern Dimension Action Plan was endorsed by the European Council in Feira in June 2000. In fact it seems much longer than only less than two and half years.
The Action Plan has been an important political tool to bring to the front the northern areas in the European Union's external and cross-border policies. During the course of a few years it has developed from a political initiative into an umbrella of multiple concrete and practical projects that are being implemented by numerous actors in a vast geographical area.
The Northern Dimension and our regional cooperation encompass both challenges and opportunities. As to the challenges, the environmental sector remains a key area in the Northern Dimension policies. The establishment of the Fund for the Environmental Partnership Programme last July was a real breakthrough. In addition to environmental protection this partnership covers enhancement of energy efficiency and nuclear safety. The use of funds reserved for nuclear waste management in North-West Russia is depending on the finalization of the MNEPR-agreement.
Development of a Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Wellbeing is under consideration. I hope that it could become an important element in our future work.
As to the opportunities I would like to draw your attention to the initiative "Motorways of the Baltic Sea". This Finnish initiative is meant to be an integrated part of the Northern Dimension transport policy. The concept would include all infrastructure and transport services. The freight transport and passenger traffic are expected to grow considerably because of economic growth in the region.
Another major opportunity is the information and communication technology. The information and communication sector is of vital importance in releasing the full growth potential in the Northern Dimension region. The sparsely populated, vast northern regions are facing specific challenges in developing infrastructure and use of information technology. The implementation of the Northern eDimension Action Plan (NeDAP) is progressing well on six different action lines. Finland is acting together with Germany as the lead country for eSkills.
The overall purpose of the Northern Dimension is to stimulate economic growth, to increase welfare, and to enhance peace and stability through economic integration. The tool to achieve this is increased cooperation between states and regions, between enterprises and local governments as well as between citizens. The Northern Dimension constitutes an overall political and structural framework to stimulate and organise this cooperation. In this regard many successes have been achieved but many challenges still remain.
It goes without saying that the relationship between the European Union and Russia will have a strong influence on the future of Europe as a whole. The EU and Russia meet as next door neighbours in the Northern Dimension region. With the enlargement of the EU the present 1300 kilometres long common border of the EU and Russia will be extended with the common borders between Russia and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. This border must not be a dividing line developing into an ever deeper fault-line regarding prosperity and well-being among people. The enlargement means that we need to reinforce our efforts to promote regional and cross-border cooperation in the Baltic Sea and Barents regions. The new Northern Dimension Action Plan should respond to these challenges.
We have had earlier this fall an active and fruitful round of discussions among different actors in terms of preparing the next Northern Dimension Action Plan. As you know the present Action Plan will expire at the end of next year.
Both the Danish EU Presidency and the Commission were instrumental in preparing the guidelines for a New Action Plan that was finalized less than a month ago in Luxembourg at a high-level conference. As the next step, it is anticipated that the Copenhagen European Council will invite the European Commission to prepare a new Action Plan for the years 2004-06. This will hopefully be adopted during the Greek Presidency. The preparation should be done in cooperation with the EU member states and in close consultation with all the partner countries. The leading role of the Commission guarantees that the Northern Dimension will be developed as a common policy of the whole Union and reflects the common interests of the EU and the partner countries.
We in Finland are satisfied with the Luxembourg guidelines. They contain all the central building blocks for the new Action Plan and the overall approach is broad and horizontal. The Action Plan itself should be comprehensive but, at the same time with special emphasis on some spesific areas.
It is important that all the relevant regional bodies are fully involved in the preparatory work. The Arctic Council, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and the Nordic Council of Ministers, all have their role to play. As Finland serves as Chair of the CBSS since last summer I will discuss the role of this regional body in more detail.
As a regional body established ten years ago it has a special role since it encompasses all the partner states in the Northern Dimension. The work of the CBSS and its structures is largely practical cooperation on reforming and developing social and material infrastructures as well as in facing new security tasks that are not military but rather in the sphere of human security. In this regard it is in an ideal place to play the role of identifying regional interests and challenges and acting as an expert partner to the Commission. It can also assume an active role in implementing the Action Plan in its vast geographical area.
As President of the CBSS Finland is promoting the whole agenda of stability, welfare and prosperity in the fields of environment, energy, transport, the information society and education, as well as civic society and human security. Among our priorities I would like to mention combating organized crime and communicable diseases, border control, children at risk, labour market issues, and supporting NGOs - especially in the field of social and health. Regarding the labour market issues Finland will host a Northern Dimension Labour Market Forum in Helsinki next February. The main idea is to highlight visions and development trends linked to the labour market in the Northern Dimension Area. As part of our programme for the CBSS Presidency I would also mention the Baltic Sea NGO Forum which will take place in Turku next May.
Besides the regional councils it is evident that the subnational level organisations and institutions have a role to play in contributing to the formulation of the new Northern Dimension Action Plan within their relevant competencies, expertise and capacities. The same goes for the actual implementation of the Action Plan.
Arctic concerns are well integrated in the Luxembourg guidelines. The way the concerns, needs and interests of the northernmost areas are presented in the guidelines help to balance out the geographical focus in the Northern Dimension. As Chair of the Arctic Council Finland made a notable effort to make the Arctic regional voice heard. In the guidelines it is explicitly mentioned that the new Action Plan should give particular attention to regions such as the Arctic and Kaliningrad; these two regions are mentioned as crosscutting issues across the board. In our view the Arctic Council should play a central role in enhancing the Arctic issues of the Northern Dimension, especially as this Council offers a forum for transatlantic cooperation as well. The up-coming EU-Canada Summit in December offers a good opportunity to further develop Northern cooperation in the high North.
The Arctic has been part of the current Action Plan but the actual realisation of all the potential may not have taken place. A crucial issue, the development and transportation of hydrocarbons has been taken forward in the EU-Russia energy dialogue. In Russia the EU´s Tacis programme is eqully available in the Arctic regions as in St Petersburg and its adjacent regions. The Tacis cross-border programme has produced good results also in the northernmost regions. A recent and excellent example is the opening of the Salla-Kelloselkä border-crossing station. The alignment of procedures of Interreg and Tacis CBC has been done to facilitate joint financing of projects across the border.
The cooperation with the Northern regions is especially important in promoting overall sustainable development, utilisation of natural resources, energy sector, implementation of the Northern eDimension Action Plan as well as education and capacity building at the local level. The potential as well as the needs are great. The long distances in the region as well as the climatic conditions impact on the transport sector which should be given due attention especially in development of the BEATA transport area and the common transport policy in the EU.
The natural resources in the northernmost areas are huge, including minerals, energy sources such as natural gas and oil, as well as forest resources. E.g. the ore deposits are among the most extensive in the world. These regions have also developed a massive industrial capacity in steel production, paper and pulp industry, chemical industries etc. Apart from the tradional industrial sector the new information and communication technology has developed well in the area. Also the human development potential is high in the Northern areas and could benefit the whole Europe.
There are still many problems in cross-border cooperation in the northernmost areas including the Barents region and North-West Russia. The development of new methods for this cooperation is crucial.
I would like to conclude that in the northern part of Europe we have both challenges and opportunities. The Northern Dimension gives us a constructive framework in which we can and we should mobilise the efforts in our regional cooperation structures. I am confident this work will be successful.
I wish you all a very successful seminar and hope that your discussions will lead to closer cooperation between interregional partners and other actors.