Midterm Review Meeting

Midterm Review Meeting

Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Kim Traavik chaired a meeting on the Solovetskie Islands, Russia, on 13 - 15 September 2004 "midterm" in the Norwegian BEAC chairmanship period 2003-2004.

The meeting considered three main issues:

  • Status and direction of cooperation within the framework of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council
  • Experience and expectations of the Russian regions
  • Strengthening key areas of cooperation (elimination of environmental "hot spots" and other issues)

Report of the meeting

Barents Euro-Arctic Council
Midterm Review Meeting
Solovetskie Islands, the Russian Federation
13 – 15 September 2004

The Barents Euro-Arctic Council held a midterm review meeting at ministers’ deputy level on the Solovetskie Islands, the Russian Federation, on 13-15 September 2004. Mr Kim Traavik, State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs chaired the meeting. The agenda, programme and list of participants are enclosed. A summary of the proceedings follows:

Status and direction of cooperation within the framework of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council

The participants expressed their continuing support for the Barents cooperation, whose particular strength lies in the broad involvement and interaction of the Region itself. A “common space” of stability and sustainable development has taken hold in the Region. However, many serious social, economic and environmental problems remain.

The Barents cooperation is part of the wider cooperative architecture in Northern Europe. The participants agreed that the northern regional bodies each have their comparative advantages which should be further enhanced. Some overlap of activities is bound to occur. This is not necessarily wasteful, but continued alertness on part of all actors is required to avoid unnecessary duplication.

The participants expressed their support for the ongoing review of the working structure of the Barents cooperation. A number of joint working groups have now been established between the Barents Council and the Regional Council. The participants emphasised the importance of economic cooperation and of the efforts to promote the involvement of major economic actors. The Industrial Partnership meetings were regarded as highly promising, but the process needs to be further stimulated. The overall structure of economic cooperation would benefit from streamlining and increased strategic focus.

The new EU financial instruments being developed, such as the neighbourhood programmes, might, with due respect given to the national policies of all parties concerned, offer opportunities for financing projects of relevance to the Barents Region. However, not all parts of the region are automatically covered. The participants at the meeting recommend that the Komi and Nenets regions of the Russian Federation should also be defined as eligible for support from relevant financial instruments.

The participants recalled the issue of enhanced cooperation with and between indigenous peoples and noted that 2005 has been declared “Indigenous Peoples’ Year” in the Barents Region. Reference was also made to the meeting later in 2004 between the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) and the Working Group of Indigenous Peoples.

In the fields of environmental and nuclear safety the Barents cooperation has succeeded in making progress on many important issues, including the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) Agreement. The participants welcomed the expanding cooperation between the Barents Council and the Arctic Council, for example on dealing with environmental “hot spots”.

Transport continues to be a challenging area for the Region due to the long distances, difficult climatic conditions and poor infrastructure and services in the east-west direction. Taking into account the positive assessment of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership and the Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Wellbeing, and with reference to the Barents Euro-Arctic Transport Area (BEATA), it was suggested that the CSO should look into the issue of a possible Northern Dimension partnership in the field of transport/communications/logistics.

The need for enhanced networking in the field of justice and law enforcement was also emphasised. Measures directed against trafficking in human beings should be further strengthened, as part of a reinforced cooperation against transnational crime in general.

The participants discussed freedom of movement and visa issues in the Region and agreed to improve contacts between border authorities and other authorities in order to build cooperation and confidence and to ensure the most favourable treatment of visa applications possible under existing regulations (Schengen and Russian).

The participants took note of developments within the Barents cooperation in the fields of health, education and research, emergency/rescue services and energy. A proposal to include energy cooperation in the general economic cooperation will be discussed by the CSO.

Experience and expectations of the Russian regions

Representatives of Arkhangelsk oblast, the Republic of Karelia and the Republic of Komi reported on their priority activities, with a focus on economic and trade cooperation, including foreign investment. They underlined the potential for increased economic interaction and in particular encouraged Nordic companies to be more active. They emphasised the Barents Industrial Partnership meetings and the prospects for increased cooperation in the fields of transport, energy efficiency and bioenergy, forest industry, oil and gas industry, machine building, fisheries and tourism. Further, they highlighted cooperation on cleaner production, environmental protection and health.

The importance of funding from the Nordic Council of Ministers and the EU for project financing was stressed, and interest in the neighbourhood programmes was also expressed. The Barents Link railway project, including the Belkomur railway, will require substantial financial backing, including from international banks.

The regional representatives voiced their support for the effort to streamline cooperation between Barents Council structures and Regional Council structures, including through joint working groups in appropriate fields.

The participants in the meeting reiterated their strong support for cooperation at the regional level and took note of the valuable information and views presented by the Russian regions.

The representatives of the chair of the Barents Regional Council (Västerbotten) provided further information about ongoing activities, including work on the important Interreg project “Barents 2010” and the Barents Link railway concept. They underlined the need for the whole region to become eligible for EU funding of neighbourhood cooperation, and recommended the establishment of a Barents-wide sub-programme from 2007, which would also include the Komi and Nenets regions of Russia.

The representative of the Plenipotentiary of the Russian President in the North-western federal okrug, reported on the activities of the okrug’s office in St. Petersburg and its support for the aims and content of the Barents cooperation. The office has a continual dialogue with the regional administrations and the federal ministries in Moscow on matters concerning regional and international cooperation. The okrug gives particular priority to issues related to transport, energy, natural resources exploitation, the humanitarian sphere and the environment.

Strengthening key areas of co-operation (elimination of environmental “hot spots” and other issues)

The participants stressed the importance of eliminating environmental “hot spots” and took note of the information provided by the managing director of the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO). The 52 projects on the revised “hot spots” list can be divided into two main categories on the basis of their “project owners”: industrial enterprises or public utilities. NEFCO presented its suggestions for priority action and confirmed its commitment to further effort in this field. However, strong support and cooperation with others will be needed.

The participants recommended that the dialogue with the “project owners” and the financing of feasibility studies should be accelerated, through among other things financial support from Nordic countries. The “problem owners” have an independent responsibility to work on these issues.

Conclusions of the meeting

The participants requested the CSO to follow up all the matters discussed. The chair highlighted the following points:

The question of better programme and project financing should be given priority. The recommendation for the whole of the Region to be made eligible for support from relevant financial instruments will be further conveyed.

The CSO was requested to conclude its review of the working structure as soon as possible. Appropriate measures should be taken in order to enhance the effectiveness of the Barents cooperation in general, and in the economic sector in particular.

The CSO was requested to examine the question of a Northern Dimension partnership in the field of transport and communications, based on additional input from Finland.

Increased cooperation between border authorities and other authorities in the Barents Rgion should be stimulated in order for them to share experiences and ideas for the further improvement of border crossing and visa procedures.

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