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
Please, 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
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