Historical archive

Address at 13th Session of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Kiruna, Sweden, 12 October 2011

“Our chairmanship will be characterised by continuity and adaptation. The cooperation must continue to be a major instrument for building an area of stability, confidence and sustainable development in Northern Europe", Foreign Minister Støre said.

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Re: Agenda item 6. Incoming Norwegian presidency. 

Dear colleagues, Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We look forward to chairing the work of BEAC for the next two years. I would go as far as to say that BEAC is one of the most successful and dynamic regional cooperation organisations in the world.

When the Kirkenes declaration was signed on 11 January 1993, the pledge we made was to “provide impetus to existing cooperation and consider new initiatives and proposals”. Mission accomplished? Well, both yes and no. The Barents region today and the areas that were envisaged to make up the future Barents region back in 1993 are worlds apart. A quiet revolution has led to a change of atmosphere in our region. Today the general picture is one of trust and confidence, friendship and close contacts; in short, normal and normalised relations. This has been achieved in less than 20 years.

We must build on this. Our chairmanship will be characterised by continuity and adaptation. The cooperation must continue to be a major instrument for building an area of stability, confidence and sustainable development in Northern Europe.

I would like to say a few words about the Troms County Council chairmanship of the Barents Regional Council, which has been particularly active. Cooperation with all regional entities has been strengthened, important processes and issues such as business development, infrastructure and transport, environment and culture have been addressed. Cooperation agreements between counties have contributed greatly to the overall aims of BEAC. Growing cooperation with EU bodies is also an asset, as is the growing cooperation between regional legislators. We would like to thank Pia Svendsgaard and her staff at Troms County Council for their assiduous work. We now look forward to fruitful cooperation with the new chair of the BRC, Norrbotten. It is impossible to imagine the Barents cooperation without its regional pillar.

During our chairmanship we will highlight and promote the Barents region as a resource-rich region in Europe.

The Barents region is immensely rich in natural resources: oil and gas, fish and seafood, forests, minerals, metals. But not least, the region is rich in human resources.

The Barents region has a highly skilled labour force, a range of universities and other centres of learning, research and scientific centres and industrial clusters - boasting world-leading technology for the safe environmental management of natural resources in Arctic conditions. And it is by far the most populated area in the whole Arctic region.

The region provides raw materials to European and distant markets, but the rich resources are also processed in the region. We want to foster environmentally-friendly industrial development in the region. 

The indigenous peoples - with their invaluable traditional knowledge - must play an active role in the modern development of the Barents region. We want to further support the Working Group of Indigenous Peoples and strengthen its cooperation with other actors.

Much has been achieved since the Barents cooperation was established in 1993. The greatest achievement is an overall normalisation of human relations, people-to-people contact. Local and regional cross-border activities have provided a form of “soft security” and laid the foundation for mutual trust and confidence between good neighbours. But there are still challenges. We must be able to respond adequately and adapt to these new challenges and new realities.

We will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the BEAC in Kirkenes in 2013. This will be an occasion to look back and take stock, but first and foremost to look ahead at the challenges and opportunities presenting themselves in the next 20 years. A new Kirkenes Declaration will be called for, a Kirkenes II, where we define future strategic priorities for the Barents cooperation. 

The Norwegian chairmanship will work for continuity and adaptability, with three main priorities:

1. Sustainable economic and industrial development

International development, climate change and the global demand for resources have all contributed to the ever-growing attention directed towards the High North and the Barents Region. The extraction of metals and minerals may become an even more important activity in the region, including the regional processing of raw materials. However, for this to occur there must be a major concerted effort to develop transport links and logistics. International cooperation in this field is crucial. The Barents cooperation can play a key role in this work.         

2. Environmentally safe and climate friendly development based on knowledge

Our aim is to implement the highest environmental standards using the scientific potential of the region as well as international research and cooperation in this field. Corporate social responsibility and ethical standards must be high on the agenda. Continued support will be given to efforts in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as to the activities aimed at eliminating the environmental “Hot Spots”. Cross-sector activities are important.  Norway will arrange a “Vadsø II”- conference on climate change. The work on an action plan for climate change in the Barents region is a high priority.

3. The human dimension

Activities and contacts between ordinary citizens is the true foundation of the Barents cooperation. The broad cultural cooperation is at its core. We will also continue to encourage and support other important cooperation areas such as health and social issues, sports, youth, education, science and research, tourism, and emergency and rescue cooperation. Good networks and close contacts across borders and between regions are necessary for building a regional identity.

Interaction between the national and regional levels is a particular feature of the Barents cooperation. As chair of the Council, Norway intends to cooperate closely with the chair of the Barents Regional Council (BRC), Norrbotten. The working groups are the practical instruments of our cooperation. We will make every effort to support and stimulate their work. The International Barents Secretariat (IBS) in Kirkenes is a valuable centre for coordinating activities in the Barents region. For the Norwegian Chairmanship, the Norwegian Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes is also an important partner and implementing party for practical project cooperation. Enhanced cross-border cooperation is an integral part of the general Barents cooperation. Finally, it is our aim to coordinate the work in the BEAC with other regional organisations and bodies, the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Northern Dimension.

We intend to play an active role as chair of BEAC. We will organise several seminars, conferences and political meetings on important issues. And we aim to mark the 20th anniversary of the Kirkenes Declaration with a high level meeting in Kirkenes in 2013. We encourage the active participation of all Barents actors on all levels. Together we can and will move forward, and make the Barents cooperation ever more visible and relevant. 


Re: Agenda item 4. Report on Swedish presidency. 

Dear colleagues,

Thank you, Carl, and thank you for your excellent company on our interesting and impressive train ride from Narvik to Kiruna yesterday. If we carry on like this we will soon be able to write a book together: Travels in the Barents region. 

Two years ago, our host today and I travelled by bus from the Norwegian Barents capital Kirkenes to Murmansk and the ministerial meeting hosted by our good colleague, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. It was a rewarding journey that gave us an opportunity to see both the beautiful nature and human activities in an area many Norwegians feel is the heart of the Barents region.

Once again this time we decided to travel overland to the BEAC Ministerial in Kiruna. The scenery is just as spectacular as between Kirkenes and Murmansk – and so are the human activities. The iron ore train is indeed impressive, and the town of Kiruna with the world’s biggest underground mine is truly an attraction.

This is the Barents region in a nutshell: there are still vast areas of wilderness and unspoiled nature, but it is also a region that has extensive human activities and rich human resources. The people-to-people contact in the Barents region is unique, and the fact that people identify themselves as citizens of the Barents region is tangible proof of this.

The fact that the ministerial meeting is taking place here, deep down in the LKAB mine, is both symbolic and intentional.

As chairman, Sweden has been active in all the traditional areas of our cooperation. This is important, as these areas form the broad and solid foundation of our common efforts. Sweden has actively promoted work on energy efficiency - by establishing the Barents Window fund. We also appreciate the fact that a financial adviser has been seconded to the International Barents Secretariat. The IBS plays a key role in coordinating the Barents cooperation, and I commend the highly competent and dedicated staff on the work they do.

Let me also single out the importance of the Parliamentary dimension. The Fifth Parliamentary Barents Conference was successfully held in Luleå in May this year. The support of our legislators is invaluable. We also had very positive reports from the Barents Rescue Exercise in Norrbotten. And we look forward to close cooperation with Norrbotten over the next two years.

In my opinion, the most important result of the Swedish chairmanship is the mineral and mining initiative:

Sweden has managed to promote the Barents region and make the world aware that it is - and I quote - “a European region of strategic importance in the field of non-energy resources”. The rich geological Fennoscandian Shield is more or less synonymous with the Barents region. The mineral sector will grow in importance, and may become one of the main driving forces for developing sustainable and prosperous societies in our region. 

Mining in Kiruna started a century ago, but seldom has the future of the mining industry here looked brighter. Kiruna is a world centre of iron ore production, but it is also a city surrounded by wilderness, by the free and open space of the High North. Above all Kiruna is a dynamic and vibrant centre in the Barents region. And the Barents region is attracting international attention due to its rich deposits of iron ore, minerals and metals. The High North is the leading region for supplying metals and minerals from primary sources to Europe and destinations further afield. But equally important to us is the fact that we have the opportunity to develop refining capacity in the region, as well as leading education and research institutions in the field of metals and minerals. We need to grasp this opportunity.

The mining sector is just starting up again in Norway, but it is developing rapidly. The Government is supporting a number of initiatives in this context. We look forward to cooperating in this sector with our more experienced Barents friends. I would like to briefly mention the plans to establish a competence centre for the sustainable exploration, extraction, processing and utilisation of mineral resources, with emphasis on the European High North Region. This is a long name, which has been shortened to SUSMIN – which stands for sustainable minerals. The research institute SINTEF in Norway is behind this initiative, and the idea is to develop a mineral competence centre by pooling the expertise of the Nordic Countries and Russia in this field. We hope this can become a mutually beneficial Barents project.

As a Norwegian, I like to ask this question: What would Kiruna have been without the port of Narvik? I do not have to give you the answer, it is obvious. Cross-border cooperation is necessary, and the extensive development of transport links and logistics is a prerequisite for industrial development. We need outlets, new links and transport routes, alternatives and substitutes. We need intermodality. We need to fight bottlenecks and coordinate national and regional initiatives. 

For Norway the maritime aspect is always important. We now foresee that offshore activities, including increased maritime transport, will have great onshore repercussions in the Barents region. This is an opportunity for all Barents countries. In this respect it is vital that we develop the transport sector, including northern ports. Our traditional thinking in the region has been North–South, but we feel that the time has now come to look East–West.

During its chairmanship period, Norway will follow up the Swedish mineral initiative, and we will continue to work actively on developing transport solutions. These issues are inextricably linked.

The highest environmental standards must be applied in our activities. We must also always have issues such as corporate social responsibility and ethical standards on the agenda. This is important because of traditional land use and the rights of indigenous peoples to continue and further develop their way of life. It is important that we work together to find good and acceptable solutions to the region’s challenges with the active participation of indigenous peoples. The Sami people lived in the Kiruna area for centuries before the mining even started. The name of the city is also Sami: Gironavarra, which means the grouse mountain. It is a pleasure for me to give the floor to Mr Egil Olli, member of the Norwegian delegation and President of the Norwegian Sami Parliament. Thank you.


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