Perspectives of Eastern Cooperation

CBS Forum Conference, Kosice, Slovakia, 26 November 2015

State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad held the opening speech at the CBS Forum Conference «Perspectives of Eastern Cooperation» in Kosice in Slovakia 26 November 2015.

(Opening) 

State Secretary Mr. Slobodnik, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and honour to be here at the sixth forum on cross-border cooperation here in Kosice.  

I am delighted to have this opportunity to share with you some reflections on cross-border cooperation and Eastern cooperation.

(The political and economic context in Europe – complex challenges)

In Europe, cooperation, integration and trust across borders have formed the foundation for peace, stability and prosperity after the Second World War.  Cross-border cooperation is the very essence of the EU.

This integration has served Europe well. As stated in the opening words of the European Security Strategy from 2003: ‘Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free.’

However, the tragic events in Paris, Russia’s violations of international law in Ukraine, and continued widespread economic and social inequalities that fuel discontent and marginalisation remind us that we cannot take peace, prosperity, democracy and fundamental rights for granted. These values must be safeguarded. 

(Common challenges – common solution)

So far this year, more than 700 000 people have crossed Europe’s borders. The scale of this migration is so large that no country can deal with it alone. This is just one example of the transnational nature of the challenges facing Europe today. Other challenges are more regional in nature, and are best dealt with at a regional level. Common challenges need common solutions. Solutions have to be found at the appropriate level, be it transnational, regional or both.

(Norway and Europe – the Norwegian experience)

Norway has a long history of cross-border cooperation and interregional cooperation. 

Citizens of the Nordic countries have benefited from free movement between these countries since the 1950s. And, through the EEA Agreement, Norway is a member of the EU’s internal market, and harmonises its legislation on trade and the free movement of goods and people with EU rules.     

For more than 20 years, the Barents cooperation has stimulated cross-border cooperation and supported regional development. One of the strengths of the Barents Cooperation is that it takes place both at intergovernmental level – between the Nordic countries, the European Commission and Russia – and at interregional level. In addition, Norway supports people-to-people cooperation between Norway and Russia through the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

This extensive cooperation has helped to build trust and foster stability in the Arctic. It has resulted in concrete cooperation in important areas such as environment and climate, transport, health and social wellbeing, culture, and search and rescue. It has also served to promote people-to-people contact.

The Barents cooperation has shown itself to be robust. Despite the unforeseen political tensions caused by the crisis in Ukraine, the Barents cooperation has continued.

Norway is also engaged in regional cooperation in the Baltic Sea area through participation in the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and we participate in 11 of EUs interreg-programmes 

We hope that the Barents cooperation can be an inspiration for other cross-border and regional developments, as here in the Carpathian region.

When it comes to Eastern cooperation, Norway supports the Eastern Partnership. Our own policy is closely aligned with that of the EU, and we would welcome even closer cooperation with the EU on the Eastern Partnership. We will maintain our political and economic support for the European integration of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.

(EEA-Grants and Eastern cooperation)

Within the framework of the EEA Agreement, Norway seeks to supplement the wider EU efforts to reduce social and economic disparities and promote democracy, stability and prosperity across the continent.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Norway, together with Iceland and Lichtenstein, has provided a total of 1.8 billion euros to reducing social and economic disparities in 16 EU member states in the period 2009–2014. Of this amount, 80 million euros have been earmarked for cooperation with Slovakia.

We support programmes in priority areas such as environment and climate change, human and social development, justice and home affairs, research and education and civil society.

In Slovakia we support cross-border cooperation betweenthe Slovak self-governing regions of Košice and Prešov and the Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia.

The objective of this 13, 4 million euros programme is to remove barriers to cross-border cooperation, by creating or supporting cross-border partnerships, exchanging know-how and easing border crossing and cross-border information flows.

For example, the Police Force of the Slovak Republic and the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine will cooperate with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority to enhance the detection and interception of illicit chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials (CBRN).

Another project aims to create a network of young people in the Carpathian region, with a view to preserve and regenerate traditional crafts and products, regional cultural traditions and heritage and to promote their use within tourism, employment and public services.

The Norwegian Barents Secretariat is involved in this programme.  We hope this will facilitate partnerships with Norwegian institutions and organisations. 

For the next period of the EEA and Norway Grants, we would like to build on your experience, and further encourage cross-border cooperation.

As stressed earlier, the countries of Europe need to stand together to secure peace, stability and prosperity. It is in our common interest that Europe succeeds. Cross-border and regional cooperation can be important contributions to this end.

I wish you every success with this important forum. 

Thank you.