Sweden at the Wheel – seminaari, STETE, Helsinki, 21.5.2001 

The Northern Dimension as a Continuing Process

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The period of more than six years of EU membership has on the whole been a positive experience for Finland. Finland’s concerns have been taken into account and the integration of the Union and solidarity among the EU member states are bearing fruit in many ways. The accession talks are proceeding well and new countries in Northern Europe will soon be members. A prime example of the potential of the Union in Northern Europe is the Northern Dimension process.

After having listened to the Swedish presentation, I want to assure you that Finland is very pleased with the efficient way Sweden has managed to take the Northern Dimension forward. Sweden has an ambitious programme for its Presidency in which the Northern Dimension and relations with Russia are priorities.

Following the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg a month ago, it is now time for a full report on the implementation of the Action Plan to be prepared, jointly by the Presidency and the Commission, for the summit in Göteborg. We think it is important for the progress report to include follow-up on all sectors. We also expect the European Council in its conclusions to include a follow-up mechanism for the whole period of the Action Plan, on the basis of the Swedish Presidency Conclusions of the Chair in Luxembourg. We support regular Northern Dimension senior official level and ministerial conferences to provide political guidance and to involve partner countries and the IFIs. We propose that the Council working group on Eastern Europe and Central Asia be convened once during each EU presidency in the specific Northern Dimension format.

The Northern Dimension has become an integral part of the external policies of the EU. On the European scene governmental and academic observers have been impressed by the way the initiative has gathered momentum in a short period of time. Clearly there was a demand for this kind of initiative focusing on Northern Europe.

The Northern Dimension is a policy of the whole EU and a test of solidarity among the EU members. The positive attitude expressed by the Southern members in Luxembourg confirms our original analysis of the mutual interests of the Northern and Southern member states. Finland has, from the beginning, supported the Barcelona process as an integral part of EU policy. Respectively, we are now receiving political support from the South for the long-term cooperative process of the Northern Dimension.

The Northern Dimension is a partner-oriented EU policy. The specific Northern Dimension format of fifteen member and seven partner countries is unique. The Northern Dimension provides the non-member partner countries a forum for discussion and, through dialogue, an opportunity to influence EU policy. This unique format is useful for enhancing stability and cooperation in the North between the enlarging EU and Russia. But with influence come responsibilities. The implementation of the ND Action Plan is the responsibility of all the Northern Dimension partners.

This implementation will benefit from enhanced cooperation and joint financing from Community funds and national programmes plus International Financing Institutions and the private sector. Even though the implementation of the Action Plan is only in its first year, the question of a separate budgetary strategy for the Northern Dimension has emerged. In Finland we think that at this stage it is better to concentrate on the ongoing work to better coordinate existing financial means. By the time the Action Plan period ends, in 2003, the results of the EU enlargement talks should be largely known. That would be the right time to discuss the future of the Northern Dimension and its financing. At that point the political objectives of the Northern Dimension will be scrutinised and the financial arrangements should be assessed in the light of the priorities of the EU’s external policies.

The EBRD presented an initiative on a “Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership” (NDEP) at a meeting in March in Helsinki hosted by the NIB. I am convinced that this initiative will now be taken forward by the Presidency together with the EBRD and the NIB. A report on this matter will be presented to the European Council in Göteborg.

It will concentrate on the financing of waste water treatment and energy efficiency projects. In this context the waste water treatment facilities in St Petersburg and Kaliningrad are key priorities. The two facilities are among the worst polluters of the Baltic Sea, according to the “hotspot” studies of HELCOM. The Commission has already announced its readiness to purchase with 50 million euros over a three-year period.

Funds from the NDEP will also be used on nuclear safety and waste management projects in the Kola Peninsula under the terms of the still unfinalised Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) agreement. In this connection I hope that Russia will take steps to secure the finalisation of the MNEPR and make it possible to sign the agreement during the Swedish EU Presidency. The EU is keen to see a rapid resolution of the issue of nuclear liability.

It is obvious that existing nuclear power plants in Russia will not be decommissioned in the near future. It is in our interests to join our partners in improving the safety of nuclear power plants in the neighbouring areas, without prolonging the operating lifetime of the Chernobyl-type reactors.

The European Council in Stockholm agreed that the Union should open up EIB lending for selected environmental projects in Russia, according to the specific criteria determined by the Council. This decision clearly indicates that the environment is one of the sectors where the EU’s and Russia’s interests coincide and where additional resources should be made available.

At the meeting in Luxembourg, Russia expressed its disappointment about the EIB participation being targeted only to the environment. Russia proposed that the EIB should also take part in the financing of infrastructure in Russia. While this can be possible in the future we should recognize that it is crucial that Russia also commits itself to this common endeavour and finds the means to take part in its implementation, as an indication of the importance of the ND in Russia.

I have noted with great interest the Russian discussion on converting debts registered under the Paris Club to conservation of nature and environmental investments. We need to have more precise information on this idea, which the stakeholders in the club should consider as a serious attempt to solve part of the Russian debt problem.

Russia’s debt to Finland is about 3.5 billion FIM. In addition to procurement of weapons and scientific instruments part of the outstanding debt could be converted into cleaning up environmental hazards that are the sources of cross-border pollution at our borders. With Poland we have managed to do this and we could use the experience gained there also with Russia. If there is genuine interest on the Russian side the issue can be discussed at high level.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Northern Dimension is not only about the environment. In the early stages, the Northern Dimension was seen as an initiative concentrating on the exploitation of the energy resources in Northwest Russia, particularly natural gas. The EU-Russia energy dialogue, which was initiated during the French Presidency, provides a new channel for promoting Northern Dimension energy objectives. In my earlier capacity as Minister for Trade and Industry I chaired the ministerial meeting in Helsinki in October 1999 that decided to set up the inter-governmental Baltic Sea Region Energy Co-operation (BASREC). The decisions made at that meeting are still the basis for energy cooperation in the region. Baltic Sea energy co-operation will be taken forward at the BASREC conference next month in Sigtuna, Sweden.

The Northern Dimension is horizontal by nature and regional by scope. We have, for example, areas such as the information society, public health, trade and investments and cross-border cooperation that deserve more attention.

I would like to mention The Task Force on Communicable Diseases in the Baltic Sea Region, which has done an excellent work. It has published its recommendations and a background document proposing as many as 100 to 150 projects. Finland has for some years already given bilateral assistance in this field, for example to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Kaliningrad. Now we need joint action against TB, HIV and antibiotic resistance. The HIV situation in St. Petersburg and Narva is already alarming and could have fatal effects in the whole region. Communicable diseases are indicators of major socio-political problems, which have to be tackled with coordinated efforts by governments in the region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Kaliningrad is in the focus of the Northern Dimension. It is a “pilot case” because of its future status as an enclave surrounded by EU member states. In January, the Commission published its communication as a basis for the dialogue with Russia about the future and development of the region. This dialogue is taking place in the framework of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. I’m confident that the EU and Russia can also find solutions to the difficult issues such as movement of people and goods and transit traffic, provided that both parties are prepared to be flexible.

Kaliningrad is only one opportunity for further co-operation within the Northern Dimension. We have to pay attention to trans-border cooperation between the EU and other regions in Northwest Russia as well. In a recent report by SVOP (the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy) in Moscow there is a need for Russia to build a regional approach vis-à-vis the enlarging EU in the North.

According to the Feira Conclusions the Commission has the leading role in implementing the Action Plan. We have expressed our satisfaction with the work done. To give assistance to the Commission, Finland sponsors a national expert to deal with cross-border cooperation. We think CBC is a priority for the whole EU and a crucial part of the implementation process. Success in this field depends on effective coordination of the Community programmes and pre-accession instruments. The EU enlargement calls for stronger emphases on cross-border cooperation at its external borders.

At the Luxembourg meeting the Commission published new guidelines on how to better combine the TACIS and Interreg programmes. The good news in the guidelines is that it now matters if support is given on both sides of the border and that the different funds can match each other. This gives also Euro regions new possibilities for cross-border cooperation. One good example is the EuregioKarelia programme. Now we expect the interface between PHARE and TACIS to also be examined with a view to enhancing cross-border cooperation between the future EU and Russia.

NGOs are welcome to contribute to the Northern Dimension process. The proposal in the Luxembourg conclusions about ND forums is timely. This is one way to create new avenues for closer people-to-people contacts in the region. The CBSS will arrange an NGO meeting later this month in Lübeck.

The organiser of today’s seminar, STETE, deserves credit for arranging seminars such as this one on topical issues. It has been actively working to promote better understanding among people in the North. The conference in Kaliningrad, in which I myself took part, was a success with broad participation of the people in the region. The visit to the town of Baltijsk was unique and symbolises the new openness that the Northern Dimension has generated. I welcome the plan by STETE to arrange the next conference in Murmansk in 2002.

Security and cooperation in our part of Europe are of course inseparable from security and cooperation in Europe as a whole. To emphasise its continued interest in working for that goal, Finland has recently decided to present its candidacy for the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2008. Such a demanding project will call for the involvement of interested non-governmental organisations such as STETE.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Northern issues were put on the transatlantic agenda during the Finnish EU Presidency and the Swedish Presidency, continued to make progress on this. The Commission and the USA are looking into parallel actions in the ND region. This will be one issue for the EU-USA summit in June.

Sweden is preparing a progress report on cooperation with Canada on northern issues. Closer cooperation between the Commission and the Arctic Council would strengthen the transatlantic links.

The Northern Dimension is a continuing process, and its implementation will be on the agenda of forthcoming EU Presidencies as both Belgium and Spain as next presidencies have indicated. The Presidencies, together with the Commission, will in the future be responsible for the presentation of regular progress reports to the European Council.

Denmark has already announced that it will organise a high level ND meeting in the autumn of 2002. This meeting will concentrate on arctic issues. The Northern Dimension Action Plan already includes an arctic agenda. The so-called ”Arctic Window” of the Northern Dimension is best developed through closer relations between the Commission and the Arctic Council, which we are chairing until the autumn of 2002.