Article | Last updated: 28/04/2015
The Barents cooperation was established by the Kirkenes Declaration of 1993 and is a cornerstone of regional cooperation in the far north of Europe.
The Barents cooperation has provided a political framework for developing cooperation with Russia and has helped to normalise relations and build confidence across former dividing lines in the north after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A new Kirkenes Declaration was adopted in 2013.
The Barents region
The Barents region has a population of nearly six million and covers an area of 1.75 million square kilometres (about five times the size of mainland Norway).
The Barents region is made up of thirteen counties and other regional entities, which are represented on the Barents Regional Council:
- Nordland, Troms and Finnmark (Norway)
- Västerbotten and Norrbotten (Sweden)
- Lapland, Oulu and Kainuu (Finland)
- Murmansk, Karelia, Arkhangelsk, Komi and Nenets (Russia)
The Barents region is rich in natural resources, especially forest, minerals, oil, natural gas and fish. It also has a diversified business sector and a number of universities and other higher education institutions. However, the long distances between communities and economic centres, sparse population and harsh climate pose major challenges for people living in the area and the authorities.
The Barents region is attracting increasing international attention, both because of climate change and because of its abundant renewable and non-renewable resources. It is important to take business cooperation to a new level while at the same time maintaining the already well-established people-to-people cooperation. In addition, we must ensure that any increased activity in the region, either mineral extraction onshore or oil and gas production offshore, does not put too much pressure on the vulnerable natural environment. Moreover, as the extractive industries make use of new opportunities in the region, indigenous peoples’ rights must be safeguarded.
The Barents cooperation takes place at two political levels: intergovernmental cooperation under the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, and interregional cooperation under the Barents Regional Council. The combination of these two levels of cooperation is one of the strengths and unique features of the Barents cooperation.
Barents Euro-Arctic Council
The members of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the European Commission. Nine countries have been granted observer status. The chairmanship rotates every second year between Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.
Norway held the chairmanship in the period 2011–13. The Norwegian chairmanship focused on three main priorities: sustainable economic and industrial development, knowledge-based environmentally sound and climate-friendly development, and the human dimension. Under Norway’s chairmanship, an action plan on climate change in the Barents region and a draft joint transport plan for the Barents region were presented. Finland took over the chairmanship on 29 October 2013. The Finnish chairmanship has identified economic cooperation, transport and logistics, climate change and the environment, and youth cooperation as focus areas. Russia will take over the chairmanship from October 2015.
Barents Regional Council
The Barents Regional Council (BRC) consists of representatives of the 13 regional entities that make up the Barents region as well as representatives of the three indigenous peoples of the region: the Sami, the Nenets and the Vepsian peoples. Arkhangelsk oblast has held the chairmanship since October 2013.
The International Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes was established in 2008. It coordinates certain activities in the Barents region, and has an online archive containing minutes from all the meetings of the BRC and the BEAC. The Norwegian Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes plays a key role in the Barents cooperation, particularly in project work.
Most of the practical work of the Barents cooperation is carried out in working groups, and supporting and encouraging these efforts is one of the chairmanship’s key tasks. There are intergovernmental working groups (under the BEAC), regional groups (under the BRC) and joint working groups, as well as a working group of indigenous peoples, which plays an advisory role to both councils.
The main task of the Barents cooperation has been to strengthen and promote regional cooperation in a broad range of fields including the business sector, the environment, transport and communications, education and research, health, culture, indigenous peoples, search and rescue cooperation and youth issues.
New Kirkenes declaration
The 20th anniversary of the Barents cooperation was marked by the Barents Summit in Kirkenes on 3–4 June 2013. The participants included Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vice President of the European Commission Siim Kallas. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal, members of the Barents Regional Council, representatives of the observer countries and the indigenous peoples, and youth representatives also took part.
A new Kirkenes declaration was adopted at the Barents Summit. The declaration describes some of the achievements of the first 20 years of the Barents cooperation and sets out new goals for the decades ahead. Although the political situation has changed as a result of Russia’s violations of international law in Ukraine, Norway wishes to maintain the regional cooperation in the north as far as is possible.