Photo: Sakari Piippo/Finnish Government
FINLAND shares a 1 340 km-long border with Russia, 736 km with Norway and 614 with Sweden. The longest stretches of these borders are located in the Barents region. Since 1993 the Barents cooperation has given an opportunity for Finland to deal with issues that are important for both Finland and its neighbouring countries. Today, over 5 million inhabitants living in the northern parts of the countries share common challenges related to climate change, urbanization and economic development which will have an effect on the environment, livelihood and people’s wellbeing in the region.
For Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini the Barents region brings to mind its unique and vulnerable nature, high-class universities and the Saami and other indigenous peoples and their traditions.
– The cooperation has contributed to a balanced integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in the region. Cooperation has been successful in many fields, such as the environment and climate change, transport, health and culture, to name a few, says Mr. Soini.
– An important achievement is that we have more connections between youth, businesses and NGOs in achieving better understanding between the peoples and the whole region. The cooperation as a whole has enhanced the awareness and visibility of Barents region, but there still remains work to do in this area.
In October 2015, at the end of the Finland’s chairmanship at the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Timo Soini passed the chairmanship gavel to the next chair, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. “That was the second time I met Lavrov as the foreign minister of Finland”, Soini says. Photo: Ilkka Tiensuu.
Barents Cooperation is part of Finland’s Arctic Agenda
In Finland Barents Cooperation is seen as part of the broader Arctic agenda which includes cooperation in the EU, the Arctic Council, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension.
– Barents cooperation is independent but it should also be seen as part of the broader Arctic agenda. The focus of the Barents cooperation is on the specific features of the Euro-Artic region. It is noteworthy that the European Union is a full member of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. The Barents experience can benefit the broader Arctic cooperation and the other way round.
Finland will become the Chair of the Arctic Council in May 2017. According to Soini the chairmanship will provide an opportunity to highlight areas that are important for the Barents cooperation.
– There are many common areas of interest. Climate change is one of the self-evident, overarching themes for the Arctic cooperation. One of Finland’s Arctic chairmanship priorities will be education, which has long been a part of the Barents co-operation.
– The Barents region has in many cases acted as a pilot area for initiatives of circumpolar relevance and this is likely to continue. Examples range from nature protection to waste management and climate change adaptation. Some current Barents projects, for instance in the human health sector, may well be broadened to circumpolar activities, if the Arctic Council members so wish.
For the next 25 years Timo Soini hopes that the cooperation will be continuously developed to better answer the common challenges and opportunities.
– Climate change will affect the northern regions more and more. On the other hand economic activity will increase. Sustainable development will remain the guiding principle also in the future.