Meet Ari Sirén – the new Head of the International Barents Secretariat

Ari Sirén took up his position as the Head of the International Barents Secretariat January 16, 2012, replacing Alexander Ignatiev.

Ari SirenPlease, tell us about your background.

– I joined the Finnish Foreign Service starting in 1974. My first posting was in the Trade Policy Department in the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, followed by postings in Russia, Poland, China and the Czech Republic. I also worked for some time with the Barents Cooperation in its very early years in the 1990’s.

In short, what is your view on the current state of the Barents Cooperation?

– Over the years, the Barents Cooperation has achieved good progress and results in for example the fields of health and environment. Another very positive example is that the Cooperation is to an increasing extent providing a useful platform for the three indigenous peoples of the Barents Region – the Sámi, Nenets and Vepsian peoples.  The general expectations of the Cooperation, however, should be increasing thanks to the Maritime Delimitation Agreement between Norway and Russia last year with potential for acting as a catalyst for development in a wider sense. We can for example see that mining and tourism are spheres that increasingly look to the Barents Cooperation as an arena and resource for cross border cooperation. The visa free zone in the Kirkenes-Pechenga that will be established, May 29, this year is of course an interesting development. This is very positive news for residents in the 30 km zone on both sides of the Norwegian-Russian border.

What in your view seems to be the most difficult challenges for the Barents Cooperation?

– The Barents Cooperation consists of many bodies involving both national and regional levels and projects with bilateral and multilateral participation. It seems that there is a lot of unused potential particularly in the Barents Working Groups for the 13 member regions to become more deeply involved enabling all to better benefit from cross-border cooperation. A challenge is of course to get funding for projects since the EU-funded programs are highly competitive. With the ongoing improvements in cooperation and coordination with the Northern Dimension Partnerships and other councils of the North – for example the Nordic Councils of Ministers, I hope that the situation will only get better. Personally, I am now working to get deeply engaged and well informed about the contemporary settings of the Barents Cooperation and I hope to be able to further improve the secretariat to the benefit of the Cooperation.

You are used to living in capitals, how do you feel about moving to Kirkenes - a small town in the High North?

– My wife Elina and I are very happy to experience the North and live in Kirkenes with all the vast nature just outside our door. Judging from the prints on our terrace, we have a fox visiting us every now and then.

The International Barents Secretariat opened four years ago as a result of a common effort by Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland to make the Barents Cooperation more efficient. Since the opening in January 2008, the Secretariat has among other things focused on improving administration and communications, and offering expertise and assistance to the stakeholders of the Cooperation. The International Barents Secretariat is colocated in Kirkenes, Norway, with the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, Barents Institute and the Center High North Logistics.


The staff of the International Barents Secretariat
Ari Sirén, Head of Secretariat
Anna Lund, Executive Officer
Roy Hojem, Accountant/Secretary
Lars-Miguel Utsi, Indigenous Peoples’ Adviser (Seconded by Norway) leaves April 15, ongoing recruitment for his successor.
Irina Nazarova, Project Funding Adviser (Seconded by Sweden)
Irina Shutova, Intern, April-July, 2012



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