Norwegian Chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council 2011-2013

"I would go as far as to say that BEAC is one of the most successful and dynamic regional cooperation organizations in the world" - said Jonas Gahr Store, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway in his opening phrase of his speech at the 13th Ministerial Session of the Barents-Euro Arctic Council (BEAC) when taking over the Chairmanship for 2011-2013 from his Swedish colleague Mr Carl Bildt.

The host of the meeting and Chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council 2009-2011, Carl Bildt, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, summed up the development over the years and the contributions of the Swedish Chairmanship. He pointed out that the Barents Cooperation has played a role in the transfer of the Barents Region from vulnerable periphery to “almost to our surprise” an acknowledged hub for trade, transport, energy extraction, mining, processing, forestry and fishery.
– It is our responsibility to ensure that these riches contribute to the development of the Barents Region itself, by strengthening its position as a global centre of excellence in technology and know-how for sustainable raw material extraction, harvesting and processing, Carl Bildt stated.
With a special address to decision makers, he stressed that this work is by no means completed:
– To maximize the potential of this fast-changing part of the world, and ensure that change is sustainable, our responsibility as politicians to foster co-operation and strengthen networks across borders is greater and more urgent than ever. To be successful, the Barents Council must work in equal measure to promote economic Prosperity, environmental and social Sustainability, and our common Security.

Mr Bildt highlighted that climate change in the very North is faster than in most other places in the world, and pointed to the continued work on the Barents Environmental Hot Spots and in this respect reminded of the establishment of the Barents Window – a Swedish contribution of 1.3 million euro aimed at energy efficiency projects in the Russian part of the Barents Region. Mr Bildt also welcomed the broadened participation of the three Barents indigenous peoples and the launch of the Barents Indigenous Congress. Among other things, references were also made to the Barents Rescue Exercise in Luleå a month earlier and the well attended raw material meeting in the EU Parliament in April, 2011, discussing potentials and responsibilities in raw material extraction in the Barents Region.

Minister Jonas Gahr Store picked up on this theme saying that:
– The regions that make up the Barents region are not only enormously rich in natural resources, but also in human resources, knowledge and technological know-how. Norway will continue to encourage and support the multitude of activities and fields of contact between citizens in the Barents countries, concluded Jonas Gahr Støre. But concluded that one of the greatest achievements in the 18 years long history of the Barents Cooperation, is the normalization of human contact across the borders. The human dimension in the Barents Cooperation is therefore one of the prioritized fields for Norway’s BEAC Chairmanship, 2011-2013.

Mr Gahr Store also envisaged a high level meeting in Kirkenes bringing together the Prime Ministers of the Barents Member States in 2013, most likely in coordination with the annual cultural festival Barents Spektakel. The meeting would aim at agreeing on a Kirkenes Declaration II summing up the achievements of the 20 years cooperation in the Barents Region and setting out the main directions for the next years to come.

The Barents Euro-Arctic Council, or in other words the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Barents Cooperation Member States, the indigenous peoples of the Barents Region and the EU Commission, meets once every two years. At the meeting the two year Chairmanship period rotates between the four main actors of the intergovernmental cooperation: Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Russian Federation. This time, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council met in Kiruna.
Minister Jonas Gahr Store and his Swedish equivalent, Mr Carl Bildt, symbolically arrived together on the LKAB iron ore train from Narvik the day before the meeting. The Ministers seems to be picking up on a tradition as they also journeyed together to the previous meeting two years ago in October 2009. Then, they took the bus to Murmansk after visiting the International Barents Secretariat and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Erkki Tuomioja, and other international representatives of the EU, Denmark and Iceland joined in Kiruna and the program continued with a visit to Esrange - the space station close to Kiruna and then a joint dinner with representatives from all the 13 Barents Member Regions. The Ministerial Session was then convened the next morning in the impressive and unique Visitor Mine of LKAB, Kiruna, Sweden. It was the 13th Ministerial Session of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.

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