Towards improved coordination between four Councils of the North

The Barents Institute at the University of Tromsø and University of Tampere have been assigned to analyze the cooperation between the Councils of the North providing decision makers with recommendations for future actions.

Over the last 60 years, formal cross border cooperation in the North has increased both in scope and numbers. It serves as a guarantee for a peaceful future and joint efforts in exploring potentials and tackling challenges across borders. But cooperating is also costly taking financial tolls on tax funded regional and national administrations as well as other institutions. Many fields of cooperation coincide, such as environment, logistics, rescue, economic, customs and business cooperation. In addition, they more or less compete for the same resources. It raises questions on how the resources best should be used in order to avoid overlapping work and maximise useful results in line with political priorities. Therefore, the initiative taken by Norwegian and Finnish Ministries of Foreign Affairs, to let two professional research institutions in the North to look closely into the situation, is very welcome.

The post World War II era of securing peace through international political cooperation and trade marked the start of the Nordic Council in 1952. As a result, a joint Nordic labour market was created as well as passport free travel between the Nordic countries. In 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers was started to maintain the strength of the Nordic cooperation alongside with the expansion of the EU. Both the Council of Baltic Sea States, starting in 1992, and the Barents-Euro Arctic Council, starting in 1993, are more or less direct spin-offs of the end of the Cold War as it opened up for the reestablishment of ties based on old kinship. The Arctic Council is the most recent invention as it was launched in 1996.

The role of the Arctic Council has increased significantly in the last couple of years, which is evidenced by the participation on the highest ministerial levels not only from Scandinavia but also from Russia and the US at the recent meeting in Nuuk, Greenland. The framework of the EU Northern Dimension starting in 1999 has also added to the structures of cooperation as countries come together on priority areas and funding in the form of Partnerships. They have so far opened up new possibilities for the four Councils to participate in the fields of environment, social/health, culture and transport/logistics.

All four Councils were established in line with needs at a certain time and consequently their profiles in terms of background, membership, fields and ways of cooperation vary accordingly. Today, no one argues that they have outplayed their roles and should be closed, but the Council of the Baltic Sea States recently went through a reform process to better correspond with contemporary needs. The discussion, however, on how to find synergies is a top item on the majority of agendas. The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, addressed the issue very clearly in 2009, when he asked on the extent of cooperation between the Councils and asserted that coordination among international regimes in the North is a key concern.

In 2011, Dr Aileen A Espíritu, the Director of The Barents Institute at the University of Tromsø, Norway and Dr Pami Aalto, Jean Monnet Professor at the University of Tampere, Finland will do their best to answers these questions. They will conduct a comparative analysis of the policy priorities of the main regional organisations operating in the Northern Dimension area. The analysis is commissioned and financed by the Norwegian and Finnish foreign ministries through the framework of the Northern Dimension.

“For collecting the data, we [the researchers] will survey working groups and then do face-to-face interviews, and analyse documents of the international organisations”, Aileen Espiritu explains.

BarentSaga will follow the outcomes of the research. It is scheduled to be completed in the fall 2011.

Please, feel welcome to contact The Barents Institute for more information: or


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