Front Page

Opening address at the Barents Euro-Arctic Council Ministerial meeting

Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt's opening address at the  Barents Euro-Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Tromsø 26 October.

Excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen,
friends of the Barents Region,

Welcome to Tromsø, the Arctic capital of Norway.

I am proud that this is my first international meeting in my new role as Foreign Minister.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Kirkenes town square features a statue of a great statesman. This man used to say that foreign relations must be based on respect, understanding and compromise. The man was Thorvald Stoltenberg, the founder of the Barents cooperation. He was Norway’s Foreign Minister in the nineties – a decade of great change in Europe.

Stoltenberg became the architect of the Barents cooperation. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council has contributed to peace and stability in the region ever since the Kirkenes Declaration was signed in 1993. Sadly, Thorvald Stoltenberg passed away in 2018. His spirit lives on in our dialogue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Barents cooperation is about being good neighbours. Building bonds across borders in the Arctic is the most important peace project for Norway.

But today there is also cause for concern. The pace of climate change in the Arctic is alarming. The effects on those who live in this region are dramatic. Indigenous peoples are severely affected. I want to commend Finland for leading the work on the Updated Action Plan on Climate Change. Joint efforts like this make me optimistic.

Friends,

The Barents region is rich in natural resources. We must remember that the people living here are our most valuable capital. One of the biggest challenges in the north is that young women are leaving. It is our common responsibility to fight this trend. The contributions of women have and always will be building blocks in northern societies. 200 years ago, women took care of the farm and vital parts of society while the men were at sea. There is a powerful monument in Murmansk telling the same story. It is called ‘The waiting woman’ and has a view out to the Kola Bay.      

It is the interplay between the regional and state levels that makes our cooperation unique. People-to-people contact is another key value. Norway has made a point of strengthening these interactions. I would like to thank our friends in Västerbotten. I am proud that we as chairs have managed to strengthen the work of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Many political meetings have been organised in all crucial areas of the cooperation. The youth summit later today will be a culmination of the Oslo-Umeå cooperation.

Let me thank previous chair, Sweden, for giving youth higher priority on the Barents agenda. I am pleased to see so many indigenous representatives here. You are a crucial part of the Barents cooperation. Norway was honoured to host the Indigenous Peoples Summit in June. Together we aspire to strengthen indigenous languages. This is a vital part of the Barents history and identity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Norway's priorities as chair reflect three of the core objectives of the Barents cooperation: people-to-people contacts; knowledge and, finally: health. The first ever Barents Ministerial Meeting on Health took place in November 2019.

A few months later, the pandemic would dominate the global agenda. The world is still fighting Covid-19. The Barents Region is no exception.

Norway’s chairmanship has been complicated by the pandemic. But we are proud to leave the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in a strong position. We believe the Barents Financial Mechanism will greatly benefit our work. I want to commend Russia for taking the initiative for the fund. 

Finally, I would like to thank all the Council members. The Indigenous Peoples, the regions, the working groups and the International Barents Secretariat are all valuable partners. Our results over the past two years are thanks to a team effort in the true spirit of the Barents region.

Friends,

I assure you that Norway remains committed to further advancing cooperation in the Barents Region. We are proud to carry on Thorvald Stoltenberg’s legacy.

Thank you.