Statement by the incoming Finnish Chair, Dr Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland
Mr Chairman, Colleagues, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to congratulate Norway for the excellent preparations for this Ministerial meeting. The Norwegian Chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council has been dynamic and forward-looking and has focused on concrete co-operation in this challenging region.
The structure of this meeting and its communiqué point to the main challenges in Barents co-operation, namely economic development, a safe and sound environment, human and social development, and last but not least, the mechanisms of this cooperation that need to take the changing environment and changing needs into account.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For Finland it is a challenge to assume the Chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council for the next two years. We will certainly build on the results of the work done so far, particularly the work done under Norwegian Chairmanship, and on the principles and aims of our previous declarations.
Our practice of working simultaneously on intergovernmental and regional levels, involving municipalities, business leaders, non-governmental organizations and people to people contacts, is the right approach within the framework of Barents co-operation.
The Barents framework should be seen, however, in a broader context; regionally, on the European level, and globally. The end of the Cold War has meant fundamental changes that are visible also in the north, to a large extent in a positive light. These wider possibilities for dialogue and co-operation laid the foundations for Barents co-operation in 1993.
Even though economic development in the Barents region has been modest compared with the expectations of the early 1990s, and even though barriers to trade and investment have not vanished, a definite change for the better has taken place.
Borders have indeed opened, people to people contacts have multiplied, economic and business relations have diversified, hydrocarbons have significantly changed the economy and we have experienced a revolution in telecommunications.
The Barents framework is clearly needed to provide responses to new industrial and ecological challanges. Are we organizationally capable of providing these answers and to what extent? In the same way we might ask about the capabilities, both concerning the competence and the resources, of other regional actors in the north such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Arctic Council.
A traditionally strong partner is the Nordic Council of Ministers. We have noted that the Norwegian chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers has indicated clearly the significance of intensive co-operation among all these bodies. The Finnish BEAC chairmanship will certainly respond to this positively and constructively.
The same questions are being asked in the EU, which is evaluating its policies in relation to northern Europe. In the EU the Finnish Government has, since the 1990s, worked for the strengthening of the Northern Dimension. The ND Ministerial Meeting later this month will give guidance for the development of the ND as a common policy shared by the EU and the countries of the region. The aim is a renewed, shared ND policy entering into force in 2007. The final decisions on a new ND policy could be taken during the Finnish EU Presidency next autumn. We look forward to working together with you all, present at this table today, in order to achieve our objective.
The concept of the Northern Dimension has from the beginning meant co-operation and coordination among the different regional forums in order to find synergies. Barents co-operation is an important medium for promoting the goals of Northern Dimension policies. Concrete results have already been achieved, especially in the fields of environment and health.
Ministerial Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the Finnish Chair it is essential that the voice of the region is heard clearly, including the voice of the Regional Council, whose membership covers regional administration, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations and individual citizens.
In our view the key objective of Barents co-operation is the promotion of sustainable development in the economic, social and environmental fields. The key principles include the promotion of good governance, gender equality and promotion of the interests of the indigenous peoples.
I would now like to outline the priorities of the Finnish Chairmanship.
Sustainable economic development is the key to the future of the Barents region with its abundance of natural resources. In the economic field Barents co-operation has been successful so far in building networks among authorities, other local actors and, particularly, business organizations.
Improving business opportunities is our proposal for common action.We would like to integrate a strong business element into the Barents Industrial Partnership meetings to promote interaction and business opportunities among authorities, the business community and other interested parties, for example in subcontracting. This effort should be market-oriented and take into account particularly the views of small and medium sized companies.
It is important to have a contribution from the Barents Business Advisory Group on the regional level. Bottlenecks and barriers to trade and investment have to be addressed in order to further develop the business environment of the Barents region.
The development of transport and telecommunication networks in the Barents region is of vital importance for the promotion of trade and investments as well as for the advancement of economic development and co-operation.
Barents co-operation in transport and logistics, however, has to be seen in a wider framework. Major developments in other fora, especially in the European Union, have to be taken into account, including the recommendations of the High Level Group on Wider Europe for Transport, which is in the process of defining the main transport axis between the EU and its partner countries, particularly the Russian Federation. The Group has considered the possibility of including the Northern East-West Railway Corridor in its final document as a possible factor in developing the Barents Region
In the Barents framework, the Barents Euro-Arctic Transport Area (BEATA) forms the basic structure for work in the field of transport. The Finnish two-year chairmanship of BEATA aims at continuing the work of improving the accessibility of the northern region of Europe while developing transport infrastructure and data networks.
Improved accessibility across borders is an important issue for east-west transport and economic co-operation. That is why it is vital to strengthen co-operation on border controls and customs formalities in the Barents Region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Seventh Meeting of Barents Environmental Ministers in Rovaniemi last month adopted a declaration, which included proposals to integrate environmental issues in the work of other sectors within Barents co-operation.
Finland has been chair of the Working Group on Environment (the WGE) during the period 2003-2005. The work of the group during this time has mainly focused on the implementation of a programme on environmental investments designed to clean up pollution ’hot spots’ in the Russian part of the region. The group has also promoted work on cleaner production and improvement of co-operation on issues related to climate change, nature conservation, sustainable forestry, and water resources.
One of the main challenges for the future work of the WGE, chaired for the next two years by Russia, is to launch environmental measures in all of the ’hot spots’ by 2013 in order to eliminate their harmful effects.
Young people are the creators of the future of the Barents region. It is therefore important that the youth dimension is further developed to secure the region’s economic and social viability.
As we all know, the Barents region is endowed with rich cultural diversity. The role of culture as a stimulating factor for development of the region is constantly increasing. Our goal is to further develop cultural cooperation and especially to strengthen the position of the Working Group of Culture.
In research and educational cooperation special attention will be paid to regional needs to enhance knowledge, skills and competence in close cooperation with industry and business in order to support economic development in the region.
Indigenous peoples enjoy a special status in their respective countries of the Barents region. The protection and development of their languages, cultures, livelihoods, and societies should be given continued priority. The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples has expressed a need for stronger focus on indigenous issues in specific fields such as education, health, economic development and the environment. The aim of the Finnish Chairmanship is to further strengthen the involvement of indigenous peoples in relevant forms of Barents co-operation.
As already mentioned during our earlier discussion, the HIV/AIDS problem in the Barents region has been the main priority during the Finnish-Karelian chaimanship of the BEAC Working Group on Health and Related Social Issues and the initial area in which to set up a multilateral programme. This will allow the working group to include in the work all the priority areas covered by the Barents Cooperation Programme, including preventive and combatant action against communicable diseases, prevention of lifestyle-related health and social problems, promotion of healthy lifestyles and development and integration of primary health care and social services.
The future needs and challenges in the field of social welfare in the Barents region will be tackled for the next two years by the new chairmanship of Norway and the Murmansk region. It is a welcome development that the new chairs have chosen to launch a new initiative in the social field with special focus on young people and children at risk. Finland wishes the new chairs well in their endeavours.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Due to harsh arctic conditions, which include cold, darkness and long distances, co-operation among the authorities responsible for emergency and rescue services is of vital importance to the region. Barents co-operation in this field has already produced significant results. Negotiations on an intergovernmental agreement on co-operation in the field of emergency prevention, preparedness and response in the Barents region are being finalized. A Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation at regional level is already the basis for co-operation involving rescue services.
The Finnish Chair plans to continue the successful Barents co-operation in emergency and rescue services as well as the process of organizing Barents rescue exercises.
Finland plans to organize the Barents Rescue 2007 Exercise and has started the planning process. The preliminary plan includes a small-scale Desk Top exercise with special focus on protection against cold, information exchange across borders, early warning and utilizing the internet-based operational picture during the exercise.
To conclude the list of priorities of the Finnish Chair I would like to emphasize that co-operation in other important areas is by no means excluded from the agenda of the BEAC. It is, however, important that this forum does not duplicate work already done elsewhere. It is also the aim of the Finnish Chair, together with the Regional Council, to look with a critical eye at the working structures of Barents co-operation, in order to find synergies, and more efficient and productive forms of co-operation.
In this context I would like to thank all those governmental and regional working groups that have done so much brainwork for us. May I finally extend once more my thanks and gratitude to Norway for its successful Chairmanship.