New "Kirkenes" declaration - Norwegian Ambassador
Norwegian Ambassador Sverre Stub, while speaking in Russia 27 November at the Northern (Arctic) Federal University in Arkhangelsk, We see increasing international interest in the Arctic and Barents regions, ranging from issues related to climate change and ice melting, to the region’s rich natural resources. The Barents cooperation and the Norwegian chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council are part of the Norwegian Government’s overall High North policy.
Conference at Northern (Arctic) Federal University in Arkhangelsk, 27. November 2012 on “Cooperation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region in the field of education and research as a resource for regional development”.
By Ambassador Sverre Stub, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of Committee of Senior Officials of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council: “Cooperation in the Barents Region – past, present and future”.
Let me first express how pleased I am to have been invited to Arkhangelsk, which has played such an important role, for such a long time, in the relations between Russia and Norway. For some of my compatriots of the past, Arkhangelsk was even a gateway to Europe. I feel both humble and privileged to be now where scientific traditions are so strong and rich. Remarkable past achievements in this region help today’s Northern Arctic Federal University play such an important role in preparing for the future.
Although their births were separated by 150 years, Mikhail Lomonosov and Fridtjof Nansen were pioneers that our two nations are rightly proud of. These two outstanding personalities brought important new insights that have been of the greatest value in exploring the High North.
We see increasing international interest in the Arctic and Barents regions, ranging from issues related to climate change and ice melting, to the region’s rich natural resources.
The Barents cooperation and the Norwegian chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council are part of the Norwegian Government’s overall High North policy. In a White paper to Parliament ayear ago, the Government stated that the High North policy is based on four overriding objectives:
Ensuring peace, stability and predictability.
Ensuring integrated, ecosystem-based management and sustainable use of resources.
Strengthening international cooperation and the international legal order.
Strengthening the basis for employment, value creation and welfare.
I congratulate the organisers of this conference with its focus on some of the very key priorities of the Barents Cooperation: Education and research as a resource for regional development.
The Barents region is rich in both natural and human resources. The potential for sustainable development in the region is huge, with good prospects for job and value creation. Success will first of all require that use of the potential be based on knowledge. I commend The Northern Arctic Federal University for the very important role it plays in this respect.
Also very important is the cooperation between this university and universities in all four Barents countries, not the least but certainly not only the University of Tromsø.
As chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, I welcome this opportunity to meet with so many active partners in cooperation among educational and research institutions of the Barents region. The various networks of cooperation are of great value. Your work is crucial in shaping the future of the Barents region. Your dedication is crucial in preparing young people for a prosperous future based on the region’s rich potential. I am pleased to note that in this context the Barents Euro-Arctic Working Group on Education and Research, presently under joint Russian-Norwegian chairmanship, makes its important contribution.
Russian students make up the biggest group of foreign students in Norway, a total of approximately 1400. This is a success-story of normalisation and cooperation in the region. But we should together see how to also increase the number of Norwegian students in Russia. To contribute to further strengthening of bilateral cooperation in education and research, a new position has been created at our embassy in Moscow from January next year.
I have not come to talk about education and research, though. What I will try to do is to portray the Barents cooperation in a wider context; its past, present and future, seen from a Norwegian perspective.
Let us briefly go twenty years back in history. We had seen the end of the cold war. The Soviet Union has ceased to exist. Discussions then started primarily in Northern Norway on how to exploit the new opportunities for renewed normal contacts across the border with Russia. I use the words renewed and normal, because traditionally, for centuries until the Revolution in 1917, there had been close contacts, including in particular trade, between neighbouring people from NW Russia and Northern Norway.
From these discussions in the early nineties, emerged cooperation in the Barents region at two levels, i.e. a regional level and an inter-governmental level. A declaration on the future cooperation in the Barents region was signed by foreign ministers in Kirkenes in January 1993. Signatories to this declaration were Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the European Commission.
Linked to this inter-governmental commitment to develop cooperation was created a more practically oriented cooperation at regional level. Today 13 regions, or counties, in Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden are members of the Barents Regional Council. This cooperation in turn allowed for a normalisation of relations at all levels. Most important, the cooperation gradually involved more and more ordinary citizens. The people-to-people contact is the true foundation of the Barents cooperation and is probably its greatest success story. From such a development there are only winners. It is therefore important to continue to stimulate and facilitate such contacts.
The normalisation of relations has helped build trust among neighbours. The broad cultural cooperation is at the core of this and has a value also beyond its own cultural dimension. It can assist in developing cross-border economic and business relations.
The development at the border has been remarkable. During the cold war border guards were staring with suspicion and fear at what they saw as enemy territory on the other side. From being a closed barrier then, via a few thousand border crossings twenty years ago, the number of crossings has reached more than 200.000 this year. Figures for the Russian/Finnish northern border are equally impressive. And the growth continues at an accelerating speed. The border has become a gateway, a bridge to normal contacts and mutually beneficial cooperation.
A visa facilitation agreement for local residents within a 30 kilometre area on both sides of the Russian-Norwegian border entered into force six months ago. Although this was a significant step, it was only a step towards more ambitious goals: further facilitation for people to visit their neighbouring country. There is still room for more facilitation of border-crossings, both for people and for goods.
While people-to-people contacts have been a success, we have so far not been equally successful when it comes to business relations of all kinds. This will hopefully change, and I am optimistic that it actually will, partly because the Barents region is so rich in natural resources: oil and gas, fish and seafood, forests, minerals and metals, and not to forget its human resources. The petroleum sector will offer great opportunities for more cooperation and involvement of companies from all Barents countries. The Barents Sea is home to the world’s largest cod stock, which is in very good shape. This year’s catches have been record-high. The way Russia and Norway jointly manage this resource could serve as an example for the rest of the world.
Mining is an industry which may lead to more cooperation among all four Barents partners. This was clearly demonstrated at a conference in Oslo two weeks ago, where Governor Igor Orlov was among the speakers. The three Nordic countries are intensifying their cooperation in mining, not the least in joint educational and research efforts, through an initiative called NordMin. There is a general feeling that everyone would benefit from Russia also being linked to such cooperation.
In a time when some countries in Europe fear economic recession, we see the Barents region as a potential engine for economic growth in Europe. There are challenges, though. The Barents region faces serious shortage of certain categories of personnel. There are job opportunities for geologists, engineers, and others. I have no doubt about the education sector’s response to the needs for qualified personnel in the region’s future economic development. Prospects for young people in the Barents region should be quite promising.
Apart from commercial actors, scientific institutions and others, the Barents WG on Economic Cooperation is also paying attention to the mining sector, as is the Barents Regional Council. Enhanced economic activity in this and other sectors will also require cooperation on improved transport and infrastructure. The Barents WG on Transport is now looking into the possibility for developing a joint Barents transport plan. All four Barents countries see the need for improved transport networks to reap the economic potentials. The Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics is an important cooperation partner in this field.
Offshore oil and gas production is, strictly speaking, outside the geographical area of the Barents cooperation, which is land-based. However, it does not take much imagination to see the requirements for all kinds of support facilities along the coast from increased activities at sea. This will undoubtedly open new business opportunities for all four Barents countries. Here I will add the interesting prospects of a competitive Northern Sea Route for transportation between Europe and Asia. We see every year an increasing number of sailings through this new sea route; more than forty this year.
As everyone is aware, it is melting of the Arctic ice that allows for these sailings. Slowly, but surely, commercial interests adapt to the changes brought about by warmer climate. This is a positive adaptation, but made possible by a negative, and serious, development. Climate change is probably the most serious challenge the world is facing. Therefore, a priority of Norway’s chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council is environmentally safe and climate friendly development, based on knowledge. Corporate social responsibility and high ethical standards is part of this agenda.
The work on a focused action plan for climate change in the Barents region is therefore high on our agenda. A lot of work has already been done for some time, both within the Barents cooperation, and particularly within the framework of the Arctic Council, and others. We will now select a few areas where effects of climate change in the region can be particularly challenging, and look not only for further mitigation efforts, but also how adaptation can best take place. This is an area that involves both scientific expertise in several countries, including Russia, and a number of working groups within the Barents Council.
One Barents Working Group with a particularly strong position is the one on, and of, Indigenous Peoples. There are indigenous peoples in all four Barents countries, mostly Sami people, but also Nenets and Vepsians. With their invaluable traditional knowledge they play an active and important role also in the modern development of the region. The Indigenous Peoples have an advisory role both to the BEAC and to the BRC.
In September the Barents Council chair hosted a seminar in Tromsø with focus on the interrelationship between indigenous peoples in the four countries, economic activities including extractive industries, and government. Thus we provided a forum for constructive dialogue among the various stakeholders. Development of the industry must take all legitimate interests into account. In this, as in most other areas, civil society has an important role to play. It is crucial, also for the Barents cooperation, that civil society be allowed to play this role.
In my mind, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council is one of the most successful regional cooperation organizations – maybe in the world. It can in many respects serve as a model for cooperation in other regions. Actually, the Norwegian Barents Secretariat is exporting some of these ideas to countries in Eastern and Central Europe, with support from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.
To conclude: Next year we will celebrate 20th anniversary of the Barents cooperation. Prime ministers will meet in Kirkenes in June to discuss how the Barents Cooperation can identify and respond to future challenges, see how the Barents Cooperation may play an even more important role in the future, to the benefit first of all of the people in the region, and I add above all to the young people in the region, but also to the rest of Europe. We hope these ideas will be reflected in a new Kirkenes declaration. We hope to have a draft ready for consultation soon. Education and research will certainly figure prominently.
We believe that together we can make the Barents cooperation ever more relevant and attractive. We must address new challenges, we must be able to adapt to changes and to create and grasp opportunities. The cooperation must continue to be a major instrument for building an area of stability, confidence and sustainable development in Northern Europe. In this endeavour, the role of education and research cannot be overestimated.