Statement by Mr Jaakko Blomberg, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland: the meeting of Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Murmansk on March 15, 2001

Venue: The eighth meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, in Murmansk on March 15, 2001

Statement by Mr Jaakko Blomberg,
Under-Secretary of State,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Let me first warmly thank Russia for organizing this meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council here in the arctic Russian city of Murmansk.

My remarks reflect the two capacities that Finland currently has: as a member of the BEAC and as the Chairman of the Arctic Council.

Since the last meeting of the Council in Oulu, international cooperation has significantly strengthened in Northern Europe and in wider circumpolar areas. In June the European Council endorsed the Action Plan for the Northern Dimension for the years 2000-2003. Simultaneously, Canada announced its own Northern Dimension Foreign Policy and the United States endorsed its Northern Europe Initiative.

These developments have raised new challenges for the regional bodies in northern areas, not only for the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council but also for the Arctic Council. There is a need for closer cooperation among these Councils to identify and promote common issues and policies and, at the same time, avoid overlapping activities. We are glad to note the positive effort by the Barents Council in this regard.


Arctic circumpolar cooperation and the geographically more limited Barents cooperation together form the northernmost outreach of the EU Northern Dimension. The Arctic Council has a specific responsibility to bring arctic circumpolar concerns to international forums. Finland, as the chair of the Arctic Council during the period 2000–2002, is committed to strengthening the role of this high level forum as a mouthpiece for the Arctic. In this effort we enjoy support from all member states and permanent participants.

With all arctic states as Members and the arctic indigenous peoples participating in the work on an equal footing, the structure of the Arctic Council enables it to represent this unique region with considerable legitimacy. Through cooperation with the Northern Forum and intensive dialogue between the capitals and the regions the Arctic Council is better able to anchor its activities in polar regions.

Seven EU Member States are connected to the work of the Arctic Council either as Members or Observers. We are, however, missing one significant link, namely the European Commission. The Commission, due to its mandate and competence, is already influencing arctic developments, actively or passively, not least in questions pertaining to climate and global environmental policies. The safeguarding of arctic interests cannot be done with complete success without close and permanent cooperation with this influential global and European player. Finland will therefore encourage the Commission to seek closer ties with the Arctic Council, possibly with the status of permanent observer.

Northern Dimension priorities such as energy, transport, sustainable use of natural resources, environmental protection and nuclear safety are highly relevant from the arctic angle. The European Commission is already involved in arctic research. The EU has financed studies on the impact of global warming in the Barents Sea region covering environmental, economic, social and cultural consequences. These studies have relevance for the recently initiated Arctic Council Climate Impact Assessment ACIA. The role of the European Community in arctic research should be reinforced in the sixth framework program for Research and Technical Development.

Intergovernmental arctic co-operation was launched by Finland ten years ago with the Rovaniemi initiative on environmental protection. This milestone will be celebrated in Rovaniemi in June of this year. The co-operation has been relatively successful in terms of assessing and monitoring the state of the fragile arctic environment – but far too modest in the light of the huge environmental threats present in the Arctic.

For the Arctic Council we underline circumpolarity as the guiding principle. Bodies such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers contribute well to circumpolar strategies within their own important target areas. In the future we envisage these Councils possibly serving as sub-contractors and financial partners to the Arctic Council, which is responsible for developing strategies for the whole arctic region. This would also give the Barents Euro-Arctic Council a new impetus and contribute to better use of scarce financial and human resources. The Arctic Council should in its work on sustainable development take note of the corresponding work already done by the Barents Council and supplement it with a circumpolar extension.


During the last two years general economic trends in Russia have been positive. Industrial production has begun to recover from the slump of August 1998. Forest and mining industries in the Russian part of the Barents Region have shown significant growth.
However, much work remains to be done. A recent study on foreign direct investments in the Russian part of the Barents region clearly indicates that some of the main challenges are related to harmonization of legislation and customs codes as well as improvement of tax regulations. The Barents working group on economic cooperation has established a special task force to tackle these questions.

The Barents Council is developing a proposal for a Northern Dimension Forest Sector Programme. This work draws together economic, social and environmental factors. Its success will be a catalyst for sustainable management and use of the forest sector. With this program the Barents Council contributes to the implementation of the EU Northern Dimension Action Plan.

Some of the main polluters of Northern Europe are located in the Barents region. The major environmental "hot spots" of the region have been identified by the Arctic Council AMAP working group and NEFCO. Modernization of the Pechenga Nickel Mining and Smelting Combine is of utmost importance, since it is one of the major industrial polluters. It is encouraging to note the ongoing negotiations regarding financing of the modernization of the nickel smelter in Pechenga.

The negotiations on the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) have continued for two years, since the Barents Ministerial in Bodö. At last we are now seeing significant progress being made in the negotiations. We have all the reasons to believe that the remaining questions, including those concerning liability, will be settled without further delay, and that the agreement will be ready for signing in the near future.

We are satisfied with the progress achieved in the development of the Barents Euro-Arctic Transport Area as a component of arctic transport. The opening of the Salla – Kelloselkä border crossing point for international traffic this coming summer and the finalization of the construction of the Ledmozero – Kochkoma railway are concrete examples of successful cooperation.


Through the Northern Dimension policies we have clearly seen the need to streamline some of the existing structures in the European North in order to avoid the risk of duplication and make full use of the limited human and financial resources. We are often dealing with the same issues in far too many ministerial and senior official level meetings.

We believe that this moment is as good as any to consider whether we could move to two-year chairmanships as we already have in the Arctic Council and in the Barents Regional Council. Consequently we could convene at the ministerial level every two years instead of each year. Furthermore, we should consider whether we could reduce the frequency of the Senior Official Meetings to a maximum of two to three per year. Effective use of e-mail and the internet speaks against too many meetings.

With these changes we would achieve visible cost effectiveness and better synergies inside these Councils. The timing of ministerials should be synchronized between the Councils so that we would have only one ministerial per year. This would mean that the next Barents Council Ministerial would be in 2003. We submit these proposals for your consideration.