Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Barents cooperation is just about to reach its full maturity. Eighteen years of rapidly expanding activities in the region have demonstrated the viability of the Council. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council not only embraces people-to-people, community-to-community, or
cross-border relations. The Barents region is the part of the Arctic, which is closest to us and the region has an increasingly global reach.
A comprehensive approach to challenges facing the Barents region is of key importance. Climate change, together with sustainable use of natural resources, biodiversity conservation, pollution prevention as well as building up energy efficiency and renewable energy resources, economic growth, enhanced transportation and logistics in the region are inherently intertwined. Our Council, with its working groups of local and regional level participation, represents remarkable knowledge and expertise, and has a potential for increasing impact in the coming years.
The main impact from the work of the Council stems from the working groups. Finland is
co-chairing the Joint Working Group on Health and Related Social Issues, and will take over the Working Group on Environment. Simultaneously, we are looking forward to participate actively in other Barents working groups.
Indigenous peoples are natural partners in the Barents cooperation. They enrich the economic activities, while at the same time assuring the environmental protection in the region. The full participation of indigenous peoples in the activities of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council is of utmost importance.
To illustrate the interlinked challenges, let me briefly discuss three issues:
the minerals sector; transport and logistics; and tourism.
The Barents region is rich not only on hydrocarbons – such as oil and gas – but also minerals and other non-energy raw materials. The global prospects for the mining sector are encouraging. The growing demand seems inevitable. And the most important precondition, good mineral potential, is there.
The Fennoscandian shield looks as the most promising area in Europe in this regard. Improvement in business environment and development of mining sector are high on the agenda of the Finnish Government. (An ambitious national Minerals Strategy was published a year ago and a new Mining Act has just come into force.)
Improving business opportunities in the North requires a joint strategic view with neighbouring countries on the development of transport routes in the Barents region. This is especially true regarding the mining sector. Intensified cooperation both in infrastructure and common rules is necessary due to increasing traffic.
From the Finnish point of view, the Barents link railway corridor from Northern Norway via Sweden and Finland to North-West Russia is essential for the economic development of the region. The Barents link will, undoubtedly, complement the Northern maritime routes. The Barents Euro-Arctic Transport Area (BEATA) and the Regional Working Group on Transport and Logistics are doing invaluable work in identifying and promoting projects that are crucial for an integrated and sustainable multimodal transport system as well as coordinating national and regional initiatives.
The environmentally sustainable and responsible use of natural resources in Finnish Lapland can hardly be overemphasized with a view to the promotion of tourism. With a concentration of high-class accommodation – and tens of thousands of beds – unprecedented elsewhere north of the Polar Circle, Finland sets the benchmark for onshore tourism in the Arctic. Consequently, we give our full support to the Public-Private Partnerships in the Barents tourism sector. The full potential in the Barents tourism lies in the collaboration between onshore and offshore facilities. We have a keen interest to be a major partner in this field.
Talking about partnerships, the Northern Dimension policy of the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland and the four established partnerships under this policy are featured in our Joint Communiqué, and with a good reason. One can hardly talk about the Barents region’s transport and logistics issues without referring to the newest Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics. Other Northern Dimension partnerships relate to environment; public health and social well-being as well as to culture.
The growing interest in the Barents region is reflected also in the increasing number of operational institutions. We welcome a close interaction between the Regional Councils in the North, and other structures like the Northern Dimension and the parliamentary cooperation. Through a more effective division of labour between these institutions, the strength and the impact of each one of them can be better recognized. At the same time, the awareness of the Barents region in the wider European context can be heightened.
As a result of the climate change, the North-East Passage is opening as a global maritime transit corridor. While this is expected to benefit the Barents region, and contribute to region’s socio-economic growth and well-being, increasing traffic brings about new challenges and risks. The Agreement on Cooperation within the Field of Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response is an indispensable instrument in this context. Finland will ratify the Agreement within the next few weeks.
The International Barents Secretariat was established under the previous Finnish Chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Today, the Kirkenes IBS Secretariat is a small, but effective entity, providing indispensable services to the Council. Let me express our profound gratitude to the outgoing first Head of the Secretariat, Mr. Alexander Ignatiev, for his important contribution to the Council. Let me also give a warm welcome to the incoming new Head of the Secretariat, Mr. Ari Sirén.
In conclusion, let me thank the outgoing Chair, Sweden, for the work well done – particularly for drawing attention to many timely issues in the region, such as the eco-efficiency and the raw materials. And let me welcome the new Chair, Norway. It goes without saying that we pledge our full support and cooperation to Norway, keeping also in mind that we will follow Norway as the Chair in 2013 to take the Council to its third decade.
Warmest thanks also to the Region of Troms for chairing the Barents Regional Council. Finally, it is my pleasure here in Kiruna to welcome the Region of Norrbotten as the new Chair, and thank for the wonderful hospitality andprogramme provided to us.