- Norway just took over the Chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. What will you want to achieve during the Chairmanship?
Our aim is to keep the Barents cooperation strong and resilient to tackle challenges and promote practical cooperation in the region at a time when international cooperation is under pressure. The Barents cooperation has been a cornerstone of regional cooperation in the Arctic since 1993, and is a high priority for Norway. I think the peaceful cooperation we experience in the region is a result of the hard work put into institutions, such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.
The Norwegian chairmanship priorities are health, people-to-people contact and knowledge. The Barents region is rich in resources, in opportunities for economic growth, and most importantly, in human capital. People create growth, so our focus needs to be on the people living in the Barents region. Climate change is happening faster in the northern areas than anywhere else. We will seek to bring authorities, scientists and NGOs together to find ways for the Barents region to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
The regions are key drivers of the Barents cooperation. The Norwegian chairmanship will work closely with Västerbotten county in its role as chair of the Barents Regional Council, as well as with the other regions.
- Keeping in mind Sweden’s explicit focus on youth issues, what is your vision in regards to the youth engagement in the Barents Cooperation?
Young people hold the key to the future of the Barents region. We need to ensure attractive lifelong opportunities not only to keep youth in the region, but also to attract young people from elsewhere. Sweden has done a great job in strengthening the youth cooperation during their chairmanship of the council. We will continue this effort. Everyone in the region, regardless of their start in life, should have equal opportunities and good living conditions.
A central element of Barents youth policy should be to continue support for multilateral cooperation between young people in the region in the areas of sports, culture and education. Cross-border contact gives young people opportunities to understand other people’s lives and backgrounds. Greater mobility is strengthening the sense of community between young people and helping to build a common identity and mutual understanding in the region. Some of these young will be our future leaders. I believe knowledge and understanding across borders amongst our young is an important investment in future relations between the Barents countries.
- Norway made the first initiatives to create the Barents Cooperation. Out of the four Barents countries Norway allocates the most significant sums of money to this Cooperation. In your opinion, is the Barents Cooperation worth the money invested?
Yes, absolutely. The Barents cooperation is a high priority for the Norwegian government. Ten ministries, government directorates and various government bodies are actively involved in the cooperation. Annually, the government allocates around NOK 220 million to the cooperation with Russia in the North. The project funding allocated through the Norwegian Barents Secretariat also plays an important role in this regard, and I am glad to hear that the people-to-people contact continues to increase and that we see actual results and success stories from the projects.
- The Barents Regional Council has been for a long time advocating the establishment of the Financial Mechanism for this region to vitalize this Cooperation. Will you support the idea?
It is an interesting proposal. We will suggest that the Committee of Senior Officials should look further into the details in order to identify possible ways of managing this mechanism.
- In your perspective, is the Barents Cooperation part of the broader Arctic agenda or does it have a more independent role in the region?
The Arctic today is a region characterised by peace, stability and international cooperation. This is no coincidence. It is a result of political priorities and hard work. Close collaboration with our Arctic neighbours both between capitals, and through people-to-people contact enables us to pursue common interests and solve cross-border challenges. We see the Barents Euro-Arctic Council as an important contributor to peace and stability in the Arctic. At a time when international cooperation is under pressure, we need strong multilateral structures like the Barents cooperation to maintain stability in the region. This will be reflected in the government’s new white paper on the Arctic that will be presented to the Norwegian parliament in the autumn of 2020.