Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased that the Northern Dimension is the theme of this seminar, which opens the Finnish chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Nordic countries have been the driving force in the development of the Northern Dimension. The Nordic Council of Ministers has over the years successfully developed activities in our neighbouring areas of Northwest Russia and the Baltic States and has been a trustworthy partner in Northern Dimension cooperation.
The renewal and transformation of the Northern Dimension was one of the successes of the Finnish EU Presidency last autumn. The leaders of the EU, Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation met on November the 24th in Helsinki at the Northern Dimension Summit. It was the first time that a Northern Dimension meeting was organized on such a high level. The purpose of that historic event was to launch the new common Northern Dimension policy. The Summit endorsed the new Northern Dimension basic documents: the Policy Framework Document and the Northern Dimension Political Declaration, which transformed the Northern Dimension into a common policy involving the EU, Iceland, Norway and Russia. These documents, which are of a permanent nature, will now guide the Northern Dimension work in the years to come. In this connection, I would like to extend my thanks to the Northern Dimension partners for their excellent cooperation and their valuable support for the Finnish EU Presidency during the whole renewal process.
The purpose of the renewal of the Northern Dimension policy was to invigorate the policy and to strengthen the commitment of all the partners involved. Finland set the development of the Northern Dimension as one of its EU Presidency objectives at an early stage. The process of consultation and planning of the future of the Northern Dimension started more than two years ago. It soon became evident that what the Northern Dimension needed was joint ownership. The joint ownership required transformation of the Northern Dimension into a genuinely common policy engaging the EU and the non-EU countries in the region: Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation.
The fact that the Northern Dimension is now genuinely a common policy involving the EU, Iceland, Norway and Russia is the most important new aspect of the updated Northern Dimension compared with the previous policy. We hope that the joint ownership will encourage all partners to actively launch initiatives to develop practical cooperation and provide the cooperation with the necessary financial and other resources. We are pleased to note that Russia has already come up with ideas on possible joint projects.
Another important feature of the renewed policy is that the Northern Dimension is now closely linked to the EU-Russia cooperation. The Northern Dimension will be a tool for the implementation of the road maps concerning the EU-Russia Common Spaces. The Northern Dimension offers an instrument for pilot activities in the implementation of the Common
Spaces in the Northern Dimension region. It is also notable that the Northern Dimension opens a door for Norway and Iceland to participate in this work in matters relevant to the Northern Dimension. This means that the renewed Northern Dimension will enhance not only EU-Russia cooperation, but also the EU’s cooperation with Norway and Iceland.
The Northern Dimension mechanisms will be strengthened to reflect the new common policy. The new expert-level Steering Group, composed of representatives of the EU, Iceland, Norway and Russia, is to provide continuity between the Ministerial and Senior Officials’ Meetings. We hope that this group will start its work without delay to ensure that the policy will be put into practice. The Steering Group should, for example, discuss the arrangements for the next Northern Dimension Senior Officials’ Meeting and how to advance the recommendations of the Political Declaration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The basic objectives of the Northern Dimension remain unchanged: namely to strengthen stability, wellbeing and sustainable development in northern Europe. The Northern Dimension underlines the importance of concrete cooperation between the EU and Russia and the other countries in the region in addressing common challenges and opportunities. This benefits not only the countries in the region, but the whole of Europe.
The Northern Dimension continues to be part of the EU’s external and cross-border policies. It focuses on Northwest Russia, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and subarctic areas including the Barents region. With the observer status of Canada and the United States, the Northern
Dimension also provides a frame of reference for intensified transatlantic cooperation especially in issues related to Arctic regions.
The Northern Dimension cooperation comprises not only cooperation between the EU and other partners at governmental level, but also cooperation at regional, sub-regional and local level. The northern regional councils: the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council, continue to play an important role in the planning and implementation of activities. We hope that the renewed policy will promote cross-border cooperation, including the work within the new Neighbourhood Programmes. We also hope that it will facilitate the cooperation efforts of non-governmental organizations, universities and research institutions as well as those of the business and trade union communities.
After the endorsement of the new policy documents it is now time to focus on practical implementation of the policy. The partnerships are a central part of concrete Northern Dimension cooperation. In the Northern Dimension Political Declaration, the partners – the EU, Iceland, Norway and Russia – express their willingness to continue and further develop the Northern Dimension partnerships, the Environmental Partnership and the Partnership in Public Health and Social Wellbeing.
The Environmental Partnership is a success story. Its projects benefit the environment of the whole region, the Baltic Sea in particular. To secure the implementation of the planned projects, the European Commission and several EU countries have indicated their readiness to contribute to the replenishment of the Environmental Partnership Fund this year. Finland decided last autumn to contribute an additional 6 million euros to the environmental window of the Partnership Fund. However, more funding is needed to make it possible, among other things, to start the last phase of cleaning the waste water that still flows into the Baltic Sea from the St. Petersburg region.
Also, the Partnership in Health and Social Wellbeing needs our continued attention and support. The health and social wellbeing of our citizens is not only a human or social issue. It is also a precondition for the sustainable economic development of the region. The Nordic countries have played an important role in this Partnership from the very beginning. The concrete support and active participation of the Nordic Council of Ministers in the Partnership is highly appreciated.
The Northern Dimension Political Declaration gives the Senior Officials the task of examining the possibility to establish a Northern Dimension Transport and Logistics Partnership. Such a partnership would serve the increased transport needs and economic development of the region and benefit the whole of Europe. The focus could be on the northern main axes and cross-border infrastructure, on the motorways of the Baltic region, on the development of requisite ports and inland navigation, on efficient logistical chains, on trade facilitation and customs procedures and on the elimination of obstacles in freight transportation. Financial institutions would have an active role in the establishment of the partnership and in the identification of projects, together with the other partners. The relevant experts should now study all aspects of such a partnership and make recommendations to the next Senior Officials Meeting. Finland is ready to actively contribute to this work. The Finnish Ministry of
Transport, together with the Nordic Investment Bank, is planning to organize an expert workshop this spring.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy are also mentioned in the Northern Dimension Political Declaration as areas where there is need for enhanced cooperation. In this context Finland has underlined the need for small and medium-sized environmental and energy efficiency projects in Northwest Russia, particularly in the municipal services sector. The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership could provide an efficient cooperation structure also for these projects. The Environmental Partnership already has some large energy efficiency projects in its project pipeline (Kaliningrad and Murmansk district heating projects), but there is also a huge need concerning district heating in smaller towns and in villages. In developing small and medium-sized projects the experience of the Nordic Environmental Financing Corporation, NEFCO, would be beneficial.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Northern Dimension policy is now entering a new phase. As a common policy involving the EU, Iceland, Norway and Russia, it provides a strengthened framework for all the Nordic countries to cooperate on an equal basis. The Nordic countries should use this opportunity and actively develop initiatives for concrete cooperation that would benefit the region and Europe as a whole. The expertise of the Nordic Council of Ministers and other Nordic institutions in regional cooperation is of utmost value in this work. But that is not enough – a strong input is needed also from the Commission and the other countries of northern Europe. Let us start the work now and let us do it together.