NORWAY plays a unique role in the history of the Barents cooperation. The Kirkenes Declaration that established the whole cooperation was signed in Norway on 11 January 1993. Even today, Kirkenes is considered to be the capital of the Barents cooperation, hosting the International and Norwegian Barents Secretariats and located on the shore of the Barents Sea.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende sees the Barents region as unique in many ways. - The Barents region is the most densely populated part of the Arctic. It is rich in natural resources and has a spectacular nature. Mr. Brende connects the region to economic opportunities, active people-to-people cooperation and cultural diversity.
Mr. Brende appraises that the Barents cooperation has been successful.
- This cooperation shows good results in a number of areas. I could mention environment, transport, health, emergency preparedness, indigenous peoples – these are areas where it makes more sense to search for regional solutions, than to limit ourselves within national borders.
-The main strength of the Barents cooperation is that it provides an arena for addressing common opportunities and challenges across the region. What makes the cooperation unique and especially effective, is the close collaboration between national and regional levels.
Mr. Brende draws special attention to the role of the indigenous peoples in the cooperation. In addition to their own Working Group, the Sami, Nenets and Vepsian peoples participate actively in all levels of the cooperation. -The Sami people live in all four countries of the Barents region. I think that the cross-border cooperation between the indigenous peoples of the region, the Sami, Nenets and Vepsian peoples, has proven very important for mutual support and assistance, Mr. Brende says.
-The Russian initiative to organize the first Barents Indigenous Peoples' Summit in Moscow in April this year was very good in this respect. At the summit indigenous leaders, government officials, regional politicians, media and other important stakeholders discussed how they can work together to secure sustainable socio-economic development for the indigenous peoples living in the Barents region.
When talking about the broader Arctic, Mr. Brende sees that the Barents and Arctic cooperation complement each other.
-The Barents cooperation is a natural part of the broader Arctic agenda. While the Arctic Council covers the entire Arctic, and mainly takes a global perspective, the Barents cooperation is closer and more practical cross-border cooperation between neighboring peoples. Barents cooperation is about meeting concrete challenges and improving daily life for the people in the region. This fits perfectly into the agenda of the Arctic Council that has sustainable development in the Arctic as an important objective for its work.
25th Anniversary: Looking back – and to the future
-When the Barents cooperation was established in 1993, its main purpose was to reduce tensions and build trust and cooperation in a region that had been divided. Through nearly 25 years of cooperation we have developed good neighborly relations and extensive networks of people-to-people contacts within the Barents region, Mr. Brende summarizes.
-Cross-border contacts between people still remain very important. I therefore see the building of trust as a central long term purpose of the Barents cooperation. Another important purpose is to create economic growth and a good life for people living in the region. Life in the north can sometimes be challenging. Areas such as education, business development and infrastructure are vital in our efforts to build a sustainable region.
For Mr. Brende, this is where concrete cooperation steps in. – If we, the countries of the Barents region, pool our best expertise and technology in these areas together, our chances to build a prosperous region are much better than if every country stands alone.
Mr. Brende recalls that a lot has changed since 1993. - In many ways we see a different Barents region today. I think this cooperation has opened up the region, enhanced the possibilities and improved the living conditions of the population. It has also contributed to building the peaceful and dynamic region that we see today.
-In 25 years’ time we want the Barents region to be even more viable and advanced than it is today, while keeping its nature pristine. To achieve this, we must work together and ensure that the development of the region is sustainable in a broad sense. Our main task is to create economic growth and future-oriented jobs in the north in a way that takes into account environmental and social considerations.
-25 years from now I hope to see the results of our joint efforts – an open region with modern and attractive societies, good schools, advanced universities and interesting jobs.