Speech/statement | Date: 03/10/2019
By Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (Umeå, 3 October)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at the Barents Council foreign ministers meeting. Norway is chairing the Council for the next two years.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends of the Barents region,
It is a pleasure for me to be here in Umeå and to be able to enjoy the hospitality of our Swedish friends and meet all my Barents colleagues.
Every day, people in the Barents region are cooperating and engaging in joint activities across borders on a daily basis.
In Kirovsk, Piteå, Bodø and Oulu – in the tundra, in music halls, on the wrestling mat, and in universities. Bridges are being built, not only to connect roads, but also to connect states, regions and communities.
It’s easy to take good things for granted, like the well-functioning cooperation among the Barents countries.
We are managing to maintain our close cooperation despite the fact that we do not always agree on all international and security policy issues. As neighbours, we are continuing our joint efforts to address issues of crucial importance in the daily lives of people living in the Barents region.
In a world where change seems to be the only constant, this continued cooperation is not a given. It is the result of political priorities.
We face twin threats: Climate change and a weakening multilateral framework for addressing global challenges. Only by recommitting ourselves to multilateralism can we find workable solutions.
The Barents region is an important part of the Arctic, partly due to its abundant natural resources.
The most important, and the most valuable resource, however, is the people of our respective countries. While the Arctic is some far-away place for most other countries, for us, it’s where a sizeable part of our population lives. And most of the people living in the Arctic actually live in the Barents region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Norway looks forward to chairing the Barents Euro-Arctic Council for the next two years. We will promote a strong and resilient Barents region. Our focus areas will be health, people-to-people contact and knowledge.
A healthy population is an essential basis for building strong Barents communities. Good health services are crucial for young people, for an aging population, and for regions with rural populations and frequent border crossings.
It is clear that we can all benefit from working together at both national and regional level. Norway looks forward to kick-starting this work with the first ever Barents Ministerial Meeting on Health and Social Issues in November this year. We very much hope to see your health ministers in Oslo on 12 November.
People-to-people contact is at the heart of the Barents cooperation. The Norwegian chairmanship will work to support and strengthen these relations.
We will focus on areas of key importance for contact between the people of the region, such as infrastructure, sustainable cross-border economic cooperation, and innovation.
We also intend to intensify cooperation and exchange in the areas of culture and sports, which are key pillars in their own right.
Knowledge is crucial for ensuring the sound management of resources and for protecting the environment in the Barents region.
The pace of climate change is faster in the north than anywhere else in the world. During our chairmanship, we will look into how we can achieve sustainable and knowledge-driven economic growth in the Barents region, in line with the Paris Agreement.
In addition to these three focus areas, we must give young people the education and skills they need to manage the resources of our region in a sustainable manner.
We need innovation, we need new entrepreneurship, and we need bright minds.
We will continue the valuable efforts initiated by Sweden to strengthen youth cooperation in the Barents region. When young people have contact with each other, this helps them to form a common identity and it enhances mutual understanding. The lasting friendships and networks created provide a basis for solving common challenges in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The regions are the key drivers of the Barents cooperation. I am proud to have the representatives of the counties of Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland and the the Sami parliament in my delegation here in Umeå. We all look forward to cooperating with Västerbotten county in its role as chair of the Barents Regional Council.
The Norwegian chairmanship will maintain close contact with actors involved in the day-to-day aspects of the Barents cooperation. We will make sure that we listen to our indigenous peoples when they share their knowledge and experience. And we will support civil society actors, including the media and NGOs, which play a key part in developing and enriching the Barents cooperation.
Promoting the Barents cooperation was a key priority for Finnmark county during its outgoing chairmanship of the Barents Regional Council. The Norwegian chairmanship will continue the work of drawing attention to the Barents success stories, together with the International Barents Secretariat and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.
I would like to thank Sweden for bringing us together here in Umeå and for the excellent work you have done as chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council over the last two years. We look forward to continuing our cooperation and pursuing new goals, with you and with our other fellow Barents countries. As the Swedish poet Karin Boye once wrote: ‘there is probably purpose and meaning in our journey, but it is the pathway there, which is worth our while’.
The Barents cooperation is not only a cornerstone of peaceful regional cooperation; it is also an international success story. More than anything, it is a daily reminder of the friendship and understanding between regions, communities and people living in the north. As chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Norway will remain committed to maintaining the momentum needed to advance the Barents cooperation.