Statement of Minister Soini at the Barents Euro-Arctic Council

Statement of Foreign Minister Timo Soini at the meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. 19 October 2017, Arkhangelsk.

Dear Colleagues, representatives of members of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Regional Council and the Indigenous Peoples, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking my colleague Minister Lavrov and Governor Orlov for the excellent dinner last night and the warm hospitability we have enjoyed in Arkhangelsk.

I would also like to congratulate Russia for their chairmanship. The several chairmanship events have increased knowledge and networks among actors. The Barents Scholarship for Cultural Cooperation will, for its part, increase visibility of Barents cooperation.

And as a Finn I am proud for the Kainuu region for its active Regional chairmanship. In this connection, I congratulate Northern Karelia for its full membership in the Barents Regional Council and thank all those who made it possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need to remember that Barents cooperation is unique. It provides a useful platform for the people of the Barents region, including indigenous peoples, to cooperate on those issues that have specific interest and meaning to them. Through its working groups and projects, this cooperation has a strong people-to-people dimension. That is the back-bone of its success.

The Barents region is the most densely inhabited and economically most active area in the Arctic. To keep the region viable, we must make full use of the new opportunities offered. These include tourism, bio-economy and renewable energy. Further attention must be paid to education and research, as well as enhancing entrepreneurship.

The development of the Northern Sea Route will bring benefits to the Region and beyond. Major infrastructure projects, such as railroad connection from Northern Finland to the Arctic Ocean and sea cable between Europe and Asia can be feasible in the long term.

In the Joint Declaration, to be adopted today, we all recognize the importance of cross-border transport connections to economic development. Finland is a keen supporter of the Joint Barents Transport Plan. The plan is needed to keep us updated of the state of the region’s transport infrastructure.

In this context, I would like to underline the importance of the EU-Russia Cross-Border Cooperation Programmes: “Kolarctic” and “Karelia”.  These cross-border investment projects –which remain outside the existing sanctions regimes – are practical steps to facilitate mobility of people and goods in the region. If successful, they will increase the trust amongst people in border regions and concretize the EU’s constructive role in the Artic. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We also need to remember, that we only have one Artic. To make it prosperous our policies need to be coherent. Different actors need to work hand-in-hand for this goal. As the chair of the Arctic Council, Finland has four priority areas: environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation and education. Their relevance also to the Barents cooperation is obvious. So we hope to intensify cooperation between the BEAC, the Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension also in these issues.

In the vulnerable arctic and sub-arctic environment it is vital that the environmental aspects are fully taken into account in all economic activities. Luckily, here the Agenda 2030, provides us the guiding principles. We just need to get down to work.

Global warming is expected to continue for decades, with considerable implications on the Northern regions.  Melting of the Arctic will have serious global consequences.

The updated Action Plan for Climate Change for Barents cooperation is therefore very timely. The Plan demonstrates how crucial it is to continue our work on mitigation and strengthen resilience and adaptation in different sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finland has raised the reduction of black carbon emissions as a concrete goal for the Artic cooperation. Curbing emissions of black carbon and methane is essential, whether we talk about climate change or clean air. In this work Barents cooperation and the Northern Dimension have an important role to play along the Arctic Council.

The EU Arctic Communication 2016 is a significant step forward in the EU’s arctic policy.  As a follow-up, Finland hosted last June the EU Arctic Event and Stakeholder Forum in Oulu. We have a good opportunity to show the people in this region that the EU can make a difference in their lives.  This requires that we put our words to actions.

I wish the best of success for the incoming Chairs: Sweden and Finnmark.