Innlegg på Barents parlamentarikerkonferanse

Utenriksministerens innlegg om - Political priorities during the Norwegian Chairmanship, and how to strengthen the cooperation in the Barents region

Political priorities during the Norwegian Chairmanship, and how to strengthen the cooperation in the Barents region

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President of the Storting,

Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends of the Barents region

It is a pleasure for me to take part in the Barents Parliamentary Conference. I would like to thank the Storting for hosting this important event and and for organising today’s timely and relevant programme. As a parliamentarian myself for several years, I highly value the dialogue in this forum. We would have liked to have welcomed you all to Norway’s Barents capital, Kirkenes, today. However, I am grateful for this opportunity to meet (albeit in a digital format) to talk about cooperation in the Barents region. As we all know, discussions on informal platforms like this, that bring together stakeholders from different sectors, add value to the ongoing dialogue in the formal structures.

I would like to start by mentioning an extraordinary bird that arrives in Murmansk around April every year. Like other birds in spring, this particular bird brings life, joy, and cheerful melodies. Many of you have probably guessed that I am talking about Barents Bird, a cultural festival organised by young people in Murmansk. The festival has its origins in a cross-border project between Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers and experts.

This festival illustrates what Barents cooperation is all about. First, it demonstrates the benefits of continuous contact and meetings between people across borders. Second, it shows how much we can achieve through cooperation, and third it confirms that our young people continue to develop our shared historical and cultural legacy in the Barents region. Because more than anything, Barents cooperation is about common understanding and respect between different cultures.

I am proud to chair the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Since Norway took over the chairmanship in October 2019, we have given high priority to strengthening areas of cooperation involving health, people-to-people, knowledge, and youth. We started off with many activities, such as the first-ever Barents Health Ministerial in November 2019, a high-level Barents roundtable at the Arctic Frontiers Conference, as well as a meeting with the Barents Regional Youth Council and the working groups in Oslo in January 2020.

Since the pandemic struck in March last year, we have all been faced with a wide range of new challenges. Closed borders, interrupted projects, plans put on hold and conversations suddenly shifted to an online platform – all of these pose obstacles to a cooperation built on contact between people. The situation has been difficult for many people living in our region, especially Indigenous peoples and vulnerable young people.

As the pandemic unfolded, we decided to react the same way that people of the Barents region have reacted throughout history: adjust and stay active. And we sought inspiration and energy in the many success stories dating from 1993 to the present. Thanks to the positive attitude of the members at both national and regional levels, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council has managed to stay focused and move the cooperation forward. We have continued our efforts on topics such as health, climate change, youth cooperation, sustainable development, indigenous peoples, transport and infrastructure, culture, and forestry in a variety of digital high-level events.

As chair, we are working to further strengthen the work of the Council through an administrative reform. We will be expanding the international Barents secretariat and restructuring the working groups. We are also cooperating to establish a Barents Financial Mechanism in order to enhance the substance of our cooperation. This is a great step forward.

Since the beginning of its chairmanship, Norway has underlined the importance of the regions as the engines of the Barents cooperation. We greatly value our close and constructive cooperation with the Chair of the Regional Council Västerbotten. We have co-hosted all our events. The 26th of October last year we organised a digital high-level meeting with participation from all member countries and regions. This was the first Barents high level meeting in history hosted in cooperation between the chairs of the two councils. The discussions at the meeting clearly demonstrated that the joint national-regional approach enriches the Barents cooperation.

As chair, I would like to thank the working groups, regions, indigenous peoples, young people, experts and project partners that have adjusted and found new ways to work together despite the restraints imposed by the pandemic. This makes me very optimistic for the future of the Barents cooperation. As things slowly return to normal, we will look ahead and prepare to restart our activities with new knowledge and visions. Norway is looking forward to hosting the Barents Euro-Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Tromsø on 26 October, when we will pass the baton to Finland. We are working to ensure that we can meet in person in Tromsø, and sincerely hope that will be possible.

Let me conclude by emphasizing once again the importance of dialogue and cooperation between the countries in the north. The geopolitical situation we live in is complex and the security situation gives cause for concern. We disagree with Russia on some important issues. Still, we talk together and cooperate on practical matters like good neighbours do. The success of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council is the result of political decisions and political commitment across borders. We remain committed to continue our daily efforts to strengthen and develop this cooperation.

I look forward to your questions and comments. Thank you.