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How can we strengthen political cooperation in the Barents region?

“Future strategic priorities for the Barents cooperation”

Introduction

Vicepresident Othmar Karas, European Parliament

6th Barents Parliamentary Conference, Harstad (Norway)

23 April 2013

Dear Speaker,

Dear Minister,

Dear Members of Parliaments,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Check against delivery

• Let me start by thanking the Norwegian Parliament for this invitation

and for hosting this event. It is a pleasure for me to address this

meeting as a representative of the European Parliament, an institution

that regards the Barents cooperation as a focal point for regional

cooperation in the Arctic and Northern Europe.

• The Barents cooperation is so far the only intergovernmental

cooperation in the Arctic region, in which the EU fully participates.

The European Parliament is a founding member of the Barents

Parliamentary Conference as well as the Conference of Arctic

Parliamentarians. The European Commission is directly involved in

the Barents Euro Arctic Council as one of the signatories and as a

regular participant.

• Despite our integration so far, I would like to highlight that this year is

of key importance for the EU Arctic policy. The Ministerial meeting

of the Arctic Council in Kiruna next month will decide on the EU's

application for a permanent observer status in the Arctic Council.

• The observer status would allow the EU to intensify cooperation and

increase a positive contribution to the work of the Council. It would

also allow the European Union to gain detailed understanding of the

concerns of Arctic partners and complement the EU's Arctic

engagement through the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the

Northern Dimension.


• I would like to take this opportunity to thank in particular the

government of Norway for their strong support for the EU's

application. I would also ask our other partners, who are present here

today, for the support of our Arctic Council application.

EU's experience with the Barents cooperation

• The EU's view of the cooperation in the Barents region is extremely

positive. In an area of military confrontation during the Cold War

close cooperation has secured long-term stability and reduced possible

tensions. It has fostered a new sense of unity which is an excellent

basis for further progress. The Barents cooperation has proven to be

an important forum of EU-Russia cooperation so far.

• It has also greatly facilitated the development and implementation of

the Northern Dimension initiatives. Barents Regional Council in

particular has developed a broad range of activities which are relevant

to the Northern Dimension within the fields of environment, health,

economic cooperation, etc.

• I would also like to underline that the Barents cooperation has been

successful thanks to cooperation between regional and national levels.

The unique two pillar set-up of cooperation in the Barents region is an

interesting model to follow perhaps also in other regions and contexts.

• On this occasion I would like to highlight Norway's special role in

promoting and supporting the Barents Cooperation. Moreover, the

International Barents Secretariat has demonstrated a great dynamism

and engagement with all the various aspects of Barents cooperation.

Future strategic priorities

• Let me reflect now a bit on our future priorities: climate change and

protection of our environment, the protection and support of

indigenous people, cross-boarder contacts, transport and raw

materials.

• 20 years on from the signing of the Kirkenes declaration, we have a

reason to celebrate this year's anniversary. Our joint efforts have been

crucial in contributing to our future prosperity, advancing the goal of

environmental sustainability, and increasing our mutual security.

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• The main challenge for the future is to develop this cooperation

further, allowing us to fully exploit the Barents cooperation's potential

in various fields, to the benefit of its peoples and countries.

• Our strategic goals, as expressed in the Kirkenes Declaration seem

overall as relevant today as they were in 1993. This does not mean

that there is no need for reflection. New developments in relation to

technologies, resources and knowledge have clear implications for our

future cooperation.

Climate Change/ Protection of Environment

• The Arctic region is where we face today some of world's most

serious challenges related to climate change and to the environment as

a whole, which are occurring more rapidly than in any other region of

the world.

• Last summer the sea ice extent was at its lowest since satellite

observations started. Or the melting of permafrost in the Arctic lands

may liberate huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, potentially

becoming a major driver of climate change in the whole world.

• We will therefore contribute our fair share to the agreed goal to limit

average global temperature increase to less than 2°C through enhanced

ambition before 2020 and legally binding commitments in 2015 as

agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha.

• We support greater international efforts to fight climate change,

through the development of alternative energy sources, resource

efficiency and climate change research. We also point to the need for

more cooperation in this respect. We look forward to the conclusions

of the BEAC Climate Change Action Plan.

• Environmental issues are a key component of the EU's renewed Arctic

policy. In this context, the EU remains particularly committed to

continue its advocacy for the use of highest environmental and safety

standards in the Arctic.

Indigenous peoples

• The EU is also committed to support the development of Arctic

indigenous peoples and to contribute to the protection of their

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traditional livelihoods for example through its cross-border

cooperation programs.

• It seems appropriate to recall that the Kirkenes declaration included a

commitment "to strengthen the indigenous communities of the

Region" and "to ensure that the cooperation (...) will take the interests

of indigenous peoples into consideration".

• The Indigenous Peoples have an advisory role both to the Barents

Euro-Arctic Council and to the Barents Regional Council and the

Barents cooperation has recognised their role by setting-up a specific

Working Group.

• However, their involvement could be further enhanced in cases where

their interests are affected. The EU would like to see more

involvement of the indigenous peoples in the work of the Barents Euro

Arctic Council and further support for their capacity building. The EU

will continue providing support to the indigenous people and to civil

society organisations working on indigenous issues.

Human contacts and cultural relations

• The people-to-people contact is the true foundation of the Barents

cooperation. It has helped build trust among neighbours.

• It is therefore important to further facilitate such contacts in order to

stimulate economic activity and trade in the region. That is why we

are in favour of working towards a visa-free Barents region. In our

view this should be based on the current Schengen zone's Local

Border Traffic Regime.

• With regard to specific relations with Russia in the regional context,

we must take into account the on-going EU - Russia dialogue on visa

facilitation. As you are probably aware, European Commission

President Barroso pointed out at his visit in Moscow in March that EU

and Russia are close to reaching an agreement on our upgraded visa

facilitation discussions and make progress towards a visa-free regime.

Transport

• Let me quickly touch upon the major issues of transportation in the

region and raw materials. As a result of the cold war and of the

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traditional strength of north-south links in all the four countries

involved, transport facilities are limited and unilateral. Enhanced

economic activity and movement of persons require cooperation on

improved transport and infrastructure.

• We clearly need to continue working on improving the Barents

infrastructure, especially the east-west connections in all forms of

transport, including roads, railways, and flight and sea routes. The EU

will continue supporting that objective.

Raw minerals

• In 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution based on the

Commission's Raw materials strategy for Europe. We have advocated

the need to reconcile extraction of materials with nature conservation

in the region, in particular based on the NATURA 2000 guidelines.

• At the same time, we called on the Commission to assess the

possibilities of environmentally sustainable exploitation of sensitive

areas that might be valuable suppliers of essential raw materials.

• Furthermore the EP supported the contribution of the region's raw

minerals to supply needs of European companies. We also believe that

there was a clear need to increase awareness of the potential of this

region in the public discussion.

• In this context, let me highlight the positive contribution to the region

by the Arctic Council under the Swedish Chairmanship due to its

focus on addressing the need for a structured business dialogue and

application of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility in the

Arctic.

Funding

• When talking about the future of the Barents cooperation, we should

also talk about the funding. We must maintain and strengthen the

funding for Barents cooperation, even during the times of tightening

national budgets.

• The EU's funding allocated to Arctic research amounts to € 20 million

per year, making it the largest sponsor of research in the region. This

includes 15 research projects, some of which are still ongoing. Results

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of this research have huge impact on the policy-making related to

climate change. The EU furthermore provides a significant amount of

funding through various initiatives to indigenous groups and local

populations.

• Additionally, the regional funding programmes invested into the

region's economic development during the 2007-2013 co-financing

period amounted to € 1.14 billion

• The EU will continue supporting cross-border cooperation. However,

we will aim to ensure that the programmes financed by the EU are

better inter-linked, effective, accessible, and meet the development

needs of local populations.

Improving cooperation and synergies

• Finally, I would like to emphasize the necessity of coordinating our

efforts with the relevant other institutions and policies, such as the

Northern Dimension, the Arctic Council and the Nordic Council of

Ministers, in order to increase synergies and avoid duplication.

• A good dialogue between the governmental side, the parliamentarian

side and the regional side is of utmost importance for the success of

this work.

Closing

• Given the importance of the Barents cooperation in fostering

prosperity, sustainable development and well-being in the region, I

would like to finish by underlining our commitment to raise the

awareness of the successful Barents, in order to ensure a long-term

political perspective of the initiative.

• I would also like to congratulate Norway for its efforts and dedication

throughout its Barents Euro Arctic Council presidency.

• I am particularly thankful for the work of the Norwegian presidency

on preparing a new Kirkenes II. ("two") Declaration, to be signed in

June this year. I am confident that this declaration will provide new

political impetus to the Barents cooperation.

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