Renaissance for Remote Rurban Regions through Research – the Case of Less Urban Areas in the North

EØS- og EU-minister Elisabeth Vik Aspakers innlegg på 'European Week of Regions and Cities' i Brussel 11. oktober 2016.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We know that the Arctic and Northern regions are blessed with resources. Energy, minerals, fish, and most importantly, the people in the North. The Arctic regions also constitute a vulnerable natural environment, where the impacts of climate change can be clearly observed.

Another important character of the Arctic is that different parts of it are in fact quite different with, unique and specific resources, challenges and opportunities.

To seize the opportunities and ensure sustainable development in the region, we need increased knowledge, and to put this knowledge into good use. The people and businesses in the High North need to be properly engaged, to transfer knowledge into developing sustainable societies in the Arctic.

The Arctic Countries, the regions of the Northern Sparsely Populated Area (NPSA) and the EU share the view that better knowledge of the north is fundamental to respond adequately to the challenges. Today's event is an excellent example of this! We will get input from a variety of perspectives, including OECDs perspectives on regional development in the NSPA area.

This input might in turn help us formulating plans to exploit the opportunities in a sustainable way. Because co-operation is key to successful development of the region.

But – why should regions and countries outside care about the development of the North? What's in it for them?One part of the answer is that developing the north further may stimulate the economies of greater Europa by making available new resources, new scientific results, improved satellite infrastructure and new markets.Another part of the answer is that by ensuring sustainable development of the north we contribute to meet the environmental challenges that affects us all.

Consequently, for Norway it has been and still is important and natural to see the further development of the Northern Regions also in an European Context. There is broad agreement both among the Norwegian people and in the Storting (Norwegian parliament) that Norway should continue to be part of the European cooperation through the EEA Agreement.

Norway welcomes the EU Joint Communication "An integrated EU policy for the Arctic". Highlighting the potential of the High North, overcoming challenges and streamlining policy for regional development are key goals for Norway. Norway views the Arctic as a well-managed region of the world, consisting of eight Arctic states that agree to cooperate on issues of common concern based on international law. The Arctic Council is the primary High Level forum for cooperation between the eight Arctic states. We note that the EU in the main concurs with this view and is supportive of these cooperative structures. This is a good basis for a continued good dialogue and cooperation.

It is also natural to extend the Nordic Arctic co-operation to the European stage. In addition to the Nordic Working Group on the Arctic, the Interreg program Northern Periphery and the Arctic has been given the role by the European Commission to pilot a collaboration network.

We see increased economic activity as an important part of developing the region's potential and agree that efficient infrastructure connecting the region is crucial to offset the challenges of climate, sparse population and huge distances.

The hard task of setting the priorities for investments and realizing them is first and foremost the responsibility of the regions in the area. The people who actually live there. We see the OECD study as a first step for the NSPA to formulate clear common priorities, for instance on transport investments and smart specialization.

But better co-ordinated regional planning and clear input on priorities also compliment national and EU-policies. On a national level we are, in Norway, currently undergoing a regional reform aiming at fewer and stronger regions which in turn might have a larger role in developing the regions.

National investments may complement and underpin European investment. The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), the Investment Plan for Europe and the European Investment Bank (EIB) can facilitate investments in new technologies and infrastructure projects that will improve transport connections and telecommunications in the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas.

Financial mechanisms may support locally-initiated ideas and projects and stimulate cross border cooperation to the advantage of the population. The EU is a major contributor to Arctic research. As a partner to Horizon 2020, Norway would encourage the EU to strengthen research on Arctic issues for the Arctic.

Talking about research, I would like to mention our international Arctic Science environments in the North; the cities Tromsø and Bodø. In Tromsø we have two institutions; the Polar Institute - our key institution for research and environmental monitoring in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Another important player is the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway –, which is bridging the education and research to the business community. The High North Center in Bodø is a national center for research, education and policy development. The Center recognizes and develops innovation, business creation and politics in the High North area. We want to further build the knowledge institutions in Northern Norway, and strengthen the link between science and the industry.

One area where the regions and other stakeholders may provide clearer input is infrastructure and communication. Transport is always about priorities. Norway gives high priority to the strategic cooperation on transport in the Barents cooperation and Northern Dimension. Cooperation with the EU under the TEN-T network is of great importance to Norway.

We agree with many that the NSPA-region can benefit greatly from space-based services. Telecom needs cannot be adequately met with the present mainly equatorial orbit satellites. Norway will recommend that the Arctic is included in a future proposal to support the next generation of Government satellite communications.

For long term sustainable development in the Northern Sparsely Populated Area, it is crucial to promote and secure sustainable regional development by and for the people living there. Consequently, we applaud this initiative by the regions in the area.

We also welcome the initiative from the EU to establish a stakeholder forum to identify key investment and research priorities for EU funds in the European Arctic. Furthermore, a direct linkage between the efforts of the Commission and the societies, research and industry in Northern Norway and the Arctic regions, including the European Arctic regions in Russia, will secure a broad network involving all types of Arctic regional programs. This would benefit the stakeholder forum set up by the European Commission, and the pilot activity commissioned to the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. Norway is also pleased that the EU will continue to engage with indigenous peoples in the area.

I am looking forward to our discussions and wish you all an interesting afternoon.