Speech by Minister Soini at the NordArc2016-seminar
Speech by Foreign Minister Timo Soini at the Arctic Expertise in Nordic Cooperation (NordArc2016) -seminar, "Prospects for International Arctic Cooperation", Helsinki 5 September 2016.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My pleasant task as the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland is to speak about Finland and our Nordic neighbors in the wider Arctic context.
In May I took part in president Niinistö’s delegation to the US-Nordic Leaders’ Summit at the White House. The host of the Summit, president Obama, greeted the Nordic leaders by saying that the small Nordic countries constantly perform at a higher level than would be expected based on their size. Well, this is definitely something that the Icelandic football team proved to be true in the European championships later in the summer!
In the White House Summit, the U.S. and the Nordic countries agreed to pursue values that form the very basis of the well-being in Nordic societies. These include democracy, the rule of law, equality, good governance, strong market economy, shared prosperity and sustainable development. Moreover, the US and Nordic leaders agreed to deepen the cooperation on key international issues, including climate, energy – and the Arctic.
The Arctic Council is the leading forum for international Arctic co-operation. Next year Finland will assume the chairmanship of the Council from the U.S. During our chairmanship, we will have a chance to highlight issues that Finland finds important for the Arctic. At the same time, we want to ensure that the transition from one chairmanship to another goes smoothly.
The Council should be able to work on key Arctic issues without unnecessary interruptions. This means that we should be ready to continue with important initiatives launched during the on-going U.S. chairmanship. In addition, we want that Iceland will have a solid basis for building their own program when they follow us as the next chair of the Arctic Council.
We will present the first draft of the Finnish chairmanship program in a month. When preparing the program, we have consulted the other member countries and the representatives of the indigenous peoples. We have also been in touch with the working groups of the Arctic Council. Sweden’s 2011-13 chairmanship program has been very useful for us in preparing our chairmanship.
The Arctic region is changing rapidly. A couple of weeks ago NASA launched new monitoring results on the extent of Arctic sea ice. According to the experts, the situation is totally different from what it was ten years ago – shrinking sea ice is the new normal in the Arctic.
The Nordics, from Nansen to Nordenskiöld, have a great history in Arctic scientific explorations. In 1905, Roald Amundsen with his second in command, Godfred Hansen, was the first one to pass through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic Sea north of the Canadian mainland.
Today the largest cruise ship ever is navigating the same route on the coast of Alaska, Canada and Greenland. It illustrates the new economic opportunities opening with the ice-free summers of the Arctic Sea. But it also reminds us of the increasing risks. Safety of navigation and protection of the environment are key issues addressed in the Arctic Council and other international bodies.
What happens in the Arctic, does not stay there. Not only the conditions of living in the Arctic are changing, but the melting of the Arctic may impact the entire climate system of the Earth. This is why climate change mitigation, adaptation, research and awareness-raising are issues that will stay on the Arctic Council’s agenda during the Finnish chairmanship – and beyond.
The Arctic Council is mandated to promote environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic. United Nations’ Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development was adopted a year ago. The new Sustainable Development Goals concern all countries. The Arctic Council already works on issues related to most of these 17 goals. The Arctic countries should further see which goals are particularly relevant for the Arctic region and for the Arctic cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Successful Arctic cooperation requires the commitment of all eight Arctic countries. We tend to stress in Finland that we share a long border with Russia - but Russia’s coastline to the Arctic Sea is 13 times longer. Russia has significant economic and political interests in the Arctic. Russia is a self-evident partner in circumpolar Arctic co-operation as well as in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, which Russia is currently chairing.
We would be burying our heads in the sand - or should I say in the snow - if we did not admit that there are political tensions that did not exist when the Arctic Council was established 20 years ago. However, the Artic Council has been able to continue its co-operative work on Arctic issues between all the member countries. We need to work hard that this would continue to be the case.
The input from the observers is valuable for the Arctic Council and its working groups. We welcome the increasing activity of the European and Asian observers.
Dear Nordic colleagues,
The Arctic dimension is vital for all five Nordic countries. Arctic issues are an important part of the regular meetings with my Nordic counterparts. In Tromso in January we had many interesting discussions on how to make good use of the Arctic opportunities. I look forward to participating in the Arctic Circles conference in Reykjavik in October.
A positive piece of news from the European Union this year has been that the EU streamlined its Arctic policy with the new Arctic communication. In June, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted conclusions on the Arctic. The conclusions welcome the establishment of an Arctic Stakeholder Forum. I have invited the first Stakeholder conference to be held in Finland. I hope it will be a new arena for us Nordics to voice our common interests with regard to the Arctic.
Year 2017 will bring major international Arctic responsibilities - and opportunities - for Finland. We will be chairing the Arctic Council, but also the Arctic Economic Council and the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. I am confident that we can work together in advancing our common Nordic interests within these and other international fora.