1 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.
2 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. 2
3 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 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 3
4 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 4
5 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 5
6 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 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. 6