Talking Barents: Prospects and Formats for Cooperation
BEAC is an important platform for international cooperation
“Barents Region is the most densely populated and economically developed Arctic region that has rich resources and a comprehensive scientific and innovation base. Cross-border cooperation in the region is unparalleled, and our key priority should always be sustainable cross-border development and creation of comfortable living conditions for people. Since its establishment in 1993, BEAC [Barents Euro-Arctic Council – Ed.] has well-deservedly become a reputable interstate institution that plays an essential role in maintaining the north of Europe as a territory of stability and neighbourliness,” Sergei Ivanov, Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport.
“Even though the borders between the states remain in place, they do not constrain joint economic, transportation and environmental activities. Cross-border cooperation in the region is unprecedented and is an example of successful, efficient and mutually supportive interaction on different levels aimed at ensuring sustainable development,” Nikolay Korchunov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
“BEAC is a council that is often perceived as an Arctic Council’s little brother, but we have to admit that the two organizations complement each other. The cooperation with BEAC is based on close human relations and active involvement of indigenous people. These factors constitute the unique nature of our council,” Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador for Arctic Affairs of the Kingdom of Sweden.
Various formats of cooperation are developing within BEAC
“Four countries are cooperating within the Barents Euro-Arctic Council – Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia, 14 regions in total. The main decision-making body is the ministerial meeting that is held biennially. However, the hardest work is being carried out by 14 working groups that cover such areas as culture, economic cooperation, education, environmental issues, healthcare and others,” Tomas Hallberg, Head, International Barents Secretariat.
“We have a number of cooperation formats with the Barents Region. We have set up cross-border cooperation as well as cooperation between twin towns. One of our achievements is inclusion into the EU cross-border cooperation programme, which provides us with additional instruments,” Pentti Malinen, Head, Regional Council of Kainuu of the Republic of Finland.
“We have an example of creation of an information centre. It is an example of cooperation between Sweden and Karelia, in particular, the centre in Petrozavodsk,” Magdalena Andersson, Governor of Västerbotten County of the Kingdom of Sweden.
“From 2013 to 2015, Arkhangelsk Region headed the regional level of cooperation in BEAC, and I look back at this period as a time of productive meetings and trips,” Igor Orlov, Governor of Arkhangelsk Region.
“We work through around 200 projects a year, it is extensive cooperation that has no boundaries, and it is wonderful. We cooperate on culture, sports, medicine, issues of indigenous peoples, and business development,” Lars Georg Fordal, Head, The Norwegian Barents Secretariat.
Northern Sea Route is a highly demanded transport corridor
“Development of transit capacities of our country, given its geography, is one of our priorities. Today the volume of cargo going through the Northern Sea Route is three-times more than in the Soviet times, but our aim is to achieve 80 million tonnes per year. Last year for the first time, although still as an experiment, container cargos went through the Northern Sea Route from the east to the west; it is a good sign, and I hope it is going to become a regular practice,” Sergei Ivanov, Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport.
Visa barriers in the Arctic
“If we talk about visa-free space for the whole BEAC territory, I would call this idea really ambitious. Such matters are now decided neither in Oslo, nor in Stockholm, nor in Helsinki, but in Brussels, and sometimes it is really difficult to negotiate with Brussels,” Sergei Ivanov, Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport.
“We have a long way ahead of us before we can achieve visa waiver for the whole region. However, our leaders understand that we need to work towards this objective,” Ragnhild Vassvik, Chairman, Finnmark County Council of the Kingdom of Norway.
Increase of global challenges and threats
“The region more often faces global cross-border challenges and threats: climate changes, border violations, illegal migration, increased volumes of natural resources extraction, and other risks. In this respect, it is important to continue working on a mechanism of collective reaction to new challenges,” Nikolay Korchunov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
“Environmental protection is a problem that has no borders, given our vicinity and fragility of northern nature. We have realized a range of projects in power and waste management, but the most global project that was finished in 2017 was aimed at protection of the Lake Onega waters,” Arthur Parfenchikov, Head of the Republic of Karelia.
“Attention to ecology demonstrated by the council is an extremely important task for its members,” Igor Orlov, Governor of Arkhangelsk Region.
Development of transportation and tourism in the Barents Region
“As part of Russia’s chairmanship in BEAC, we put forward transportation as one of the priorities. This is a draft of a joint plan of the Barents Region that implies synergy of transport and tourism sectors, cooperation on intelligent transportation systems and professional training,” Sergei Ivanov, Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport.
Expansion of international cooperation
“Current trends and forecasts for the regional development reflect the need to jointly assess potential risks and threats to public security in the Arctic. The efficiency of multilateral cooperation in this area will largely depend on the use of modern information technologies. The first steps in this direction have been made,” Nikolay Korchunov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
“Finnmark is the most northern county within the Barents cooperation, and the only Norwegian county that borders on Russia. In Finnmark we have established close and friendly relations with our neighbours, thanks largely to the trade with Russia,” Ragnhild Vassvik, Chairman, Finnmark County Council of the Kingdom of Norway.
Enhancement of BEAC’s role and authority
“Unfortunately, our council is little known beyond the expert circles. We need to increase visibility and presence of our council; it is a question of communication efficiency, and we believe that this is going to be our absolute priority during our chairmanship in BEAC,” Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador for Arctic Affairs of the Kingdom of Sweden.
“Cooperation in the Barents Region has a 25-year history; however, it remains mainly unknown <…> but we always strive to increase visibility of our organization,” Tomas Hallberg, Head, International Barents Secretariat.
Implementation of joint educational programmes
“Another priority of our chairmanship is a more active involvement of young people. We pay a lot of attention to restoring active work of joint groups of young specialists”, Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador for Arctic Affairs of the Kingdom of Sweden.
“One of important aspects is youth and education. We have a joint project of Russian-Norwegian school in Murmansk, it is a branch of our school in Troms. Each year 10 Russian and 10 Norwegian students have a unique opportunity to spend a year studying together. When we concentrate on education and youth, as in this project, we focus on the future, we lay the foundation for maintaining good neighbour relations between the countries; it is important groundwork”, Willy Ornebakk, Chair of Troms County Government of the Kingdom of Norway.
“The ‘Arctic Skills’ joint project by Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden is dedicated to professional training of students from the four countries aimed at sharing knowledge and experience. It is a unique opportunity for exchange of cultural values,” Ragnhild Vassvik, Chairman, Finnmark County Council of the Kingdom of Norway.