Chairman, Minister Freivalds, Distinguished Seminar Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Northern Dimension has now for six years been a part of the external and cross-border policies of the European Union. The establishment of a Northern Dimension policy of the EU was a major breakthrough for the European Union. It also was a natural consequence of the enlargement of the Union to the north. The then acceding countries, Finland and Sweden, wanted to make the rest of the European Union aware of the opportunities and challenges in the north. The questions were raised: How can stability and welfare in northern Europe be promoted? How can cooperation in this region, especially co-operation reaching over the EU-border, be increased? How can the European Union and Russia enhance their contacts and work together in this region? How can Norway and Iceland, which chose to remain outside the Union, be more involved in cooperation with the EU and Russia?
The importance of these issues was acknowledged among the other Union countries and the Commission. The Northern Dimension policy was included in the EU agenda in 1999. The Commission was assigned to prepare an Action Plan. The first Northern Dimension Action Plan covered the years 2000-2003, and the current Second Action Plan covers the years 2004-2006.
Before going to my main theme, the future Northern Dimension, I would like to shortly analyze the Northern Dimension as it is and tell what results have been achieved so far. The Northern Dimension can be analyzed in a twofold way. On the one hand, it is a political concept used to draw the Union’s attention to issues of the north and the importance of close cooperation with North-west Russia. This certainly is a goal that has been achieved. The Action Plans that I just mentioned are a means to highlight issues that need to be improved or further reinforced. One could maybe say that the Northern Dimension concept as such and through its Action Plans functions as a whip, which forces the interested stakeholders to take measures because the political pressure to do so has been created.
One the other hand, the ND is also something much more concrete and practical, and its essence manifests in the established partnerships: the Environmental Partnership (NDEP) and the Partnership for Public Health and Social Wellbeing (NDPHS). And you can also argue that, besides the partnerships, the Northern Dimension is everything that different actors, such as individual countries, groups of countries, the Commission, regional councils, NGOs, private companies and so on, do at the practical project level in the Northern Dimension region, that is, in North-east Europe plus the Arctic areas over a broad belt from the east to the west. And – to be honest – all these actions are, of course, not an outcome of the Northern Dimension policy of the European Union. Many, probably most, things would have taken place also without any Northern Dimension policy, but quite a few have certainly been indirectly inspired by the Northern Dimension and others are a direct result of it.
The partnerships are clearly the principal achievement of the Northern Dimension. The environmental partnership aims at solving problems related to waste water, solid waste, air pollution and nuclear waste. The Fund of this partnership has now collected 225 million euros as donations from both EU Member States, the Commission and partner and observer countries. Russia is one of the biggest donors. The Fund gives only the seed money to the projects of the partnership. The main bulk of financing comes from loans that mainly Russian actors take out from international financial institutions. When we add the loan money to the seed money in the Fund, a total of more than 2 billion euros will be available for urgent and important environmental projects in North-west Russia. This is, of course, an enormous achievement. These projects are equally and vitally important for both the Union and Russia. The immediate beneficiaries are all inhabitants not only in this part of Europe but in the whole of Europe. Air pollution and nuclear waste emissions do not spread only in the nearby area.
As we have now gathered here in Lappeenranta only a few weeks after the festive inauguration of the first project of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership, I cannot resist the temptation to mention it: The St. Petersburg South-’west Waste Water Treatment Plant was officially opened by President Putin, President Halonen and Prime Minister Persson on September 22nd. Today, 85 % of the waste water of St. Petersburg is being cleaned. The nitrogen and phosphorus loads into the Gulf of Finland are substantially reduced. Here we thus have a concrete result of the Northern Dimension policies – a result that all countries around the Baltic Sea and their inhabitants will notice and benefit from. And this is only the first project; almost 20 additional projects are already in the so called project pipeline, either under construction or in the process of planning.
I just want to mention also the other established Northern Dimension partnership: the Partnership for Public Health and Social Wellbeing. The focus of this partnership is just as important as that of the environmental partnership: this partnership aims at curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other similar communicable diseases. This is a field in which we all, both the public and private sector, have an urgent common interest.
We have now taken a brief look at what the Northern Dimension is today. The results should not be underestimated – we have reached a lot both at the political level and in practice. The results reached so far naturally form the basis for the future Northern Dimension policies.
What kind of Northern Dimension do we then envisage for the future?
We need the full commitment of all Northern Dimension stakeholders, especially of the current parties – the EU Member States and the Commission – and the current partner countries Russia, Norway and Iceland. We also, of course, need commitment from the part of the observer states, the USA and Canada, from the regional councils, the international financial institutions and other stakeholders such as the European Parliament.
The key actors are the Union and Russia. In order to have a strong and active Northern Dimension policy in the future, we need to make it a common endeavour for the Union and Russia. The Northern Dimension should be developed into a common Northern Dimension policy between the EU and Russia. The objectives of the future Northern Dimension should thus be agreed jointly.
It is important to integrate the Northern Dimension into the changed operational environment. Since the adoption in autumn 2003 of the present Northern Dimension Action Plan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have become Member States of the EU. The cooperation in the context of the Northern Dimension now focuses even more than before on the EU-Russia -cooperation. Therefore, the Northern Dimension should be accomodated to the EU-Russia cooperation framework.
In May this year, the EU and Russia agreed on a roadmap for the Four Common Spaces. The road map includes steps that should be taken to enhance cooperation between the EU and Russia in the fields of economy; freedom, security and justice; external security; and research, education and culture.
The Northern Dimension, for its part, should be seen as a regional reflection of the overall EU-Russia cooperation framework. In fact, the Northern Dimension offers an already existing tool for the implementation of the road maps at the regional level, in the geographical area that the Northern Dimension covers, which is mainly in North-west Russia. The Common Spaces will thus provide material for the future Northern Dimension. Not all will be relevant in the regional cooperation, of course, but quite many of the priorities of the Common Spaces can be furthered also in the regional cooperation.
However, the Common Spaces do not fill up the future Northern Dimension. There are some important current Northern Dimension issues that are not covered by the Common Spaces, such as health care and social welfare, arctic cooperation and indigenous peoples’ issues. We think that these issues should be upheld and reinforced by the future Northern Dimension policies as well.
The Northern Dimension partnerships have proved their strength and value. The current partnerships will need both financial and political support in the future as well. Given that the partnership model has proved to be successful is it logical to ponder over these lines and think of possible new partnerships. The partnership model is a flexible tool, which can be used in many different ways. In some fields, major financial contributions might be needed, in some other fields the financial needs might be considerably smaller.
The benefits of increased cooperation in the field of transport and logistics were discussed in this seminar earlier today. This is an important area, in which all European countries, not only the countries in the Northern Dimension region, have an interest. The Finnish Government has already had some internal discussions on the need of a partnership in this field. We would now be interested to hear the views of the other Northern Dimension countries: do you see that such a partnership, along the lines of the environmental partnership, for instance, could speed up and facilitate goods traffic and thus promote economic growth in the region?
Personally I would like to see enhanced cooperation also in such areas as education, research cooperation and cultural exchange. I would like to see a rise in the number of Russian students studying in EU countries and, correspondingly, in the number of students from the Member States of the EU studying in Russia. EU-students should be encouraged to study Russian and Russian students to study the languages of the EU countries.
Canada and the United States are observers to the Northern Dimension. This provides the Northern Dimension with an important transatlantic link, the potential of which has not been fully exploited by the European Union. Increased cooperation with these countries, especially in arctic issues, is something that we think would be of mutual benefit.
The Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Arctic Council are important northern regional organizations of cooperation in the Northern Dimension framework. They have contributed significantly especially to the identification of cooperation needs in different sectors. Their role should be further developed in the Northern Dimension context without making compromises concerning their independence. This can be done through intensified cooperation between the European Commission and the regional organizations.
And finally, though not less importantly:
Various sub-regional and local actors, universities, the private sector, NGOs and other non-governmental actors play an important role in the practical regional and cross-border cooperation. This is an element that deserves increased attention in the future Northern Dimension. Measures at the government level should aim at encouraging active citizenship and at removing prevailing obstacles for people-to-people -contacts.
This is by the way a matter in which the city of Lappeenranta and the Lappeenranta University of Technology offer an excellent example. Both the city and the University have already for several years put great efforts in increasing cooperation with the neighbouring Russian regions including St. Petersburg. Now we can see the results in the number of visiting tourists and businessmen, in the number of joint-ventures, in the number of Russian students at the university, in the number of border crossings. Visitors to Lappeenranta today can see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears how the city has become effectively bilingual with Russian as the second language.
This is why it is not a coincidence that we meet here in Lappeenranta today. Neither is it a coincidence that the seminar takes place in the premises of the University nor that it has been organized by the Northern Dimension Research Institute, which is an integral part of the University. These examples show the real essence of the Northern Dimension, the enhancement of grass-root, people-to-people activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A draft guidelines document, outlining the basic features of the future Northern Dimension, is now under negotiation between the EU, Russia and the other present partner countries, Norway and Iceland. The Commission leads this negotiation process in a determined and active manner. It has already asked the northern regional councils to give their comments.
The adoption of the guidelines document by the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland is due to take place at the Northern Dimension Ministerial Meeting in Brussels at the end of next month. That will be an important event, marking the commitment of all parties to the development of the Northern Dimension into a Common Northern Dimension policy.
The discussions on the substantial content of the new Northern Dimension political document will begin next year on the basis of the guidelines. The finalization and adoption of the new political document is scheduled to take place in autumn 2006, during Finland’s EU Presidency. As the future EU Presidency and the initiator of the Northern Dimension policy, Finland will do its utmost to bring the process to a successful conclusion. In this work we will continue to work together with Sweden as closely as we have done so far.
Increased cooperation in this part of Europe benefits the whole of Europe. This is why we need an enhanced Northern Dimension in the future as well.