The Kirkenes Conference: High North politics more important than ever
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Kirkenes Conference, one of the region’s most significant events, bringing together policy makers, business people, regional authorities, universities and other Barents actors. The programme included sessions on political and economic development in the high North, on cross-border oil and gas development, viewpoints from the tourism industry as well as questions on how to develop the region while taking into account the climate challenge ahead of us.
Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende opened the first day’s session by stating that he is inspired by how energetic and active the region is. He stated that in Northern Norway there is economic growth, new jobs are being created and new knowledge being developed all the time. At present 10% of Norway’s population lives in the North. Brende underlined that the practical international cooperation happens within the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council. Especially in the present geopolitical situation it is of utmost significance to prioritize people-to-people cooperation. The Minister also stated that Norway is willing to support the Barents cooperation even more in the future.
The first Deputy Governor of Murmansk Alexey Tyukavin underlined that keeping the Barents region as an area of low tension is of a high priority for Russia. He presented the large infrastructure projects that have been initiated in Murmansk. Murmansk Transport Hub is being developed. This means that the port infrastructure is undergoing modernization, new terminals are being built on the Western coast and coastal support is being given to shelf projects.
Harri Mäki-Reinikka, the Ambassador of the Northern Regions from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, stated that the European Union should invest more into the Barents and Arctic regions. When drafting policies and financing programmes for the Arctic it is crucial to take into account the needs in the region. Finland is willing to advance the development of a railroad from Rovaniemi to the Northern Sea as well as a sea cable connection from Asia to Europe.
The Chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Committee of Senior Officials Sergey Petrovich presented the Russian BEAC Chairmanship’s initiative to establish a Barents Davos – a high-level event devoted to Barents issues and bringing together politicians, representatives from business life, media and other organizations. Russia has stated its readiness to host such an event in Murmansk starting in 2018 and thus marking the 25th anniversary of the official Barents cooperation.
The Party Secretary Kari Elisabeth Kaski from the Norwegian Socialist Left Party underlined that the development opportunities in the North stretch way beyond oil and gas. Instead of the oil and gas industry the Arctic countries should focus on developing fisheries industry, tourism, renewable energy resources as well as sustainable mining industry. She highlighted that it is possible to take advantage of the opportunities the North is offering without causing permanent damage to the environment.