Paavo Väyrynen, an old hand at Finnish and international politics, gave a speech in Kirkenes in January 2013 at a seminar marking the Barents cooperation’s 20th anniversary. Väyrynen's long career as a politician was seen also at the anniversary seminar: he was the only one of the seven signatories of the original Kirkenes Declaration present.
“I remember when preparing the meeting in 1993, the atmosphere was high. We felt like we were launching a significant project”, recalls Väyrynen for the BarentSaga.
The Barents cooperation was preceded by The North Cape (Nordkalotten or Pohjoiskalotti) that consisted originally of the provinces Finnmark, Nordland and Troms in Norway, Norrbotten in Sweden and Lappi in Finland. Before Barents cooperation was lauched, The North Cape got a new region to join: the Murmansk region.
“The initiative for the Barents Euro-Arctic Council came from Norway and the model was The Council of the Baltic Sea States. The name “Barents” felt suitable and the word Euro-Arctic was actually invented during the meeting. I think I was the first to suggest it”, says Väyrynen.
In his speech in January 2013, 20 years after the signing of the declaration, Väyrynen emphasized the power of the cooperation between the countries of Northern Europe. He also sees the policy of centralization pursued by Russia as a threat to cooperation.
“Subregional cooperation in the Barents Euro-Arctic region is important. I feel sad that during the last years Russia’s and its regions’ participation in the cooperation has been weak”, says Väyrynen.
“To be able to continue effective work in the Barents, Russia should be allowed to participate unconditionally and actively”, he continues. He sees that the cooperation with the Council of the Baltic Sea States should be brought closer to the BEAC as the areas are partly overlapping.
”I live in Keminmaa, which is a municipality in Finland, located in the southwestern part of the province of Lapland. Our family runs the Hotel Pohjanranta and there I can see the concrete good results of the Barents cooperation when meeting more and more tourists from Russia, Norway and Sweden”, tells Väyrynen.
Väyrynen feels that the visa freedom in the Barents region is possible and desirable in the future. But before that Russia needs to create a fully reliable passport system.
“I believe that there is a need for the Barents cooperation also for the next 20 years”, sums up the Grand Old Man of the Finnish Northern politics.
Paavon Väyrynen’s speech in Kirkenes can be found at his homepage in Finnish.
Photo by Finnish Centern Party archive.