Historical archive

Opening speech at the first meeting of the Norwegian Chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

"We have achieved a lot, but there is more to do. We must build on what has already been achieved, expand it and redefine it", State Secretary Erik Lahnstein said in his opening speech at the first meeting of the Norwegian Chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in Oslo 7 December 2011.

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Dear members of the Committee of Senior Officials, Dear Chairs and co-chairs of the Working Groups.

It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to welcome you to Oslo.

You  -  the Committee of Senior Officials and the working groups – are the key instruments of the Barents cooperation - the back bone for action. There has been fantastic progress in our cooperation and it is important for the political leadership to demonstrate how much we put into this.  The working groups build real content into political will. With so much accomplished, it is important to redefine and strengthen the Barents cooperation and put new ideas on the table. I would encourage you not to be too modest.

It is easy for the Norwegian government to give its wholehearted support to your work. As you might know, the High North is the most important strategic foreign policy priority for the Norwegian Government. In this the Barents Euro-Arctic Region is a corner stone. It has taken cooperation in the region a huge step forward. Two and a half weeks ago, the government presented its white paper on the High North, giving due recognition to the work of the BEAC.

Because of its success, the Barents cooperation is a true source of inspiration for other international organizations. Throughout my travels and meetings, it is very encouraging to hear so many people talk of the Barents cooperation.

Which brings us to the core of where it all started. In 1987, Gorbachev delivered his historic speech in Murmansk, raising high hopes few people dared to believe in. Only a few years later, we sat down together and signed off the first Kirkenes-declaration.

Today, we pay tribute to all the achievements of the past 20 years, many of which are a concrete and direct product of the Barents cooperation. But the Barents Region is not only a region of peace and cooperation, but also a region with very promising possibilities.  

We have achieved a lot, but there is more to do. We must build on what has already been achieved, expand it and redefine it.

Our work will be characterized by three main priorities:

First, we want to foster environmentally friendly industrial development.

The extraction and processing of metals and minerals is becoming an ever more important activity in the region. In 2012, Norway will publish its own mineral strategy. We look forward to cooperating with our Barents friends on this issue. We will allocate new funds for mapping mineral resources and we will build on the good work done by the Swedish chairmanship. We will continue to develop new projects together in the field of research and infrastructure.

This leads me to the question of transport solutions, which Norway will continue to develop actively during its chairmanship. The development of new transport links and improved logistics is a prerequisite for industrial development.

I am therefore glad that the transport partnership has been established within the Northern Dimension and look forward to explore all possible synergies. In the person of Oddgeir Danielsen, I know we have a good, hard-working Norwegian established at the head of the NDPTL secretariat in Helsinki. I am glad the NDTPL fund has been established and now I look forward to travel to Moscow to see how we can further strengthen the financial basis of the NDTPL.  

As a maritime country, it is important for Norway that offshore activities have onshore implications. This is an opportunity for all Barents countries and cross-border cooperation within the BEAC framework can play a key role in this.

Our second priority: High environmental standards.

Our aim is to implement the highest environmental standards by using and further developing the scientific potential of the region. Continued support will be given to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Regarding the Barents “hot spots”, it was encouraging that 3 of the 42 hot-spots were removed from the list at the last meeting of the environmental ministers. This is a great achievement and an important milestone for the Working Group of the Environment.

We need a systemic approach and I would like to seize the occasion to remind you of Norway’s considerable experience with the integrated management of marine resources.

Norway will give high priority to the work on an action plan for climate change in the Barents region. Of course, when drafting the action plan for climate change, we will work closely with the Arctic Council. 

Our third priority: The human dimension

Since the beginning, activities and contacts between ordinary citizens has been the foundation of the Barents cooperation. The broad cultural cooperation is vital. The people-to-people dimension of the Barents cooperation got the most important results most quickly. We will continue to encourage and support this during our chairmanship.

I will put forward only one example out of many to illustrate this. In the early 90’s, the number of border crossings between Russia and Norway was limited to a few thousand. We now have more than 100000 and the numbers continue to grow. I am confident that the agreement on Facilitation of Mutual Travel for Border Residents will further increase the number of border crossings. People-to-people cooperation in the Barents Region has matured. People make friends, find work, some even marry across the border. In many ways, this dimension of the Barents cooperation goes on by itself. It is therefore sensible to build on this and put more of our active efforts into job and value creation for the benefit of all citizens of the Barents Region. 

Extraction and processing of metals and minerals is becoming more important. We must strike the right balance between different interests, between the interests of indigenous peoples on the one side and the extraction of metals and minerals on the other. Corporate social responsibility and ethical standards must therefore be put firmly on the agenda.

Interaction between the national and regional levels is a particular feature of the Barents cooperation. Norway looks forward to work with the new chair of the Barents Regional Council, Norrbotten and ensure that we stay coordinated in our efforts.

Finally, it is our aim to coordinate the work in the BEAC with other regional organizations and bodies, the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Northern Dimension. I am glad to learn there will be good participation at the coordination meeting between the four regional organizations and partners of the Northern Dimension to be held here in Oslo on the 19th of January.

There is one person we should be particularly aware of at this meeting: That Is Alexander Ignatiev, the head of the international Barents Secretariat. You are in many ways the embodiment of this work. I have had the pleasure of meeting you on many occasions and know very well of the tremendous work you have done for the Barents Region. I wish to thank you on behalf of the Norwegian and I am glad that you will carry on with your involvement in the High North as editor in chief of the Arctic Herald.

In 2013 we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation. 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 and together we will define future strategic priorities for the Barents cooperation.

I wish you a warm welcome and a productive two days here in Oslo.

 Thank you.