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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud
Speaking points at the 12 th ministerial session of the Barents Euro–Arctic Council (BEAC)
Murmansk (Russia), 15 October 2009
To represent the European Commission at this ministerial meeting of the Barents Euro–Arctic Council in the city of Murmansk is a great pleasure to me, and I would like to thank the Russian Federation for hosting this event.
The European Union is a promoter of regional cooperation and is particularly committed to the various regional councils that exist in our common European continent. The north of Europe is a fertile land for this type of cooperation: the Barents Euro–Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Arctic Council are all successful structures that play the important role of getting us closer and more interdependent. The fact is that the north of Europe is where the inter-relation between the EU and Russia — along with Norway and Iceland — and between the regions themselves is smoother and particularly satisfactory.
Since we are so well hosted by the Murmansk oblast today I would like to recall that this territory of the Russian Federation has been the attention and the focus of the so-called nuclear envelope of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership. We feel proud in the EU for having contributed to increase the safety and well-being of the citizens of the Barents region.
The special characteristics of Barents cooperation are without any doubt its double structure (inter-state and inter-regional cooperation). We at the European Union are firm believers in cross-border cooperation. It has been a precious instrument along the process of European Union integration, and we soon realized that it had to be applied to our external borders as well. The EU will continue supporting cross-border cooperation in the North, both at the level of border programmes, such as the Karelia and Kolartic programmes, and at the wider level of the Baltic Sea programme which embraces large areas of the Barents region. We have been concerned with the delays in the implementation of the cross-border EU/Russia programmes related to the 2007–13 European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, but we have received with satisfaction the news that the Russian Government has cleared the way for the signature of the financing agreements, and hope that we can move ahead at the latest at the EU/Russia summit of 18 November in Stockholm. We hope that this positive trend will also open the way for a rapid signature of the financing agreement with Russia concerning the Baltic Sea Programme.
Barents cooperation is built upon the facilitation of trade and of common investments between the neighbour regions. This is important, particularly in this area of Europe, which is far from the big cities and which has a sparse population. BEAC should ensure that national legislations do not create new obstacles for trade, particularly in resources — such as wood — that traditionally constitute a common bond between our people and companies.
The Barents region is unique in Europe for its indigenous peoples. The European Commission would like to support the development of all Arctic indigenous peoples and to contribute in the protection of their traditional livelihoods, in line with the 2007 UN declaration. We would very much like to see that all Arctic states adhere to this declaration. We support accordingly that BEAC keeps providing an ever increasing role to its indigenous peoples within its organization.
Preserving the Arctic region, ensuring a sustainable use of its resources and facilitating a good international governance of this pristine area of the world are the EU's goals. For years, the EU policies have had an impact in the Arctic region, some of them with a world-wide recognition.
The EU, as an Arctic entity, wishes to see the European Commission sitting at the table of the Arctic Council as a construc tive observer: both at the high-level meetings and at the ground work carried out by its working groups. We are convinced that we will be a significant added value for the Arctic Council, as we believe we are with our membership in BEAC since its foundation. Therefore we ask for the support of all our BEAC and Northern Dimension partners, present here today, in our Arctic Council application.
“Our common Arctic” is where we face today some of Europe's most serious challenges related to climate change and to the environment as a whole. As for the more classical environmental activities, BEAC is fulfilling these tasks. The Northern Dimension for its part drives larger environmental works and infrastructure in the region, with the support of major international financial institutions. This is remarkable and we should stick to our good environmental endeavours.
However, the challenge of climate change is of a different magnitude. As we say in the communique that we will hopefully be adopting later on today, the “ development of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures should be of high priority in the whole Barents cooperation.” Moreover, it is of utmost importance that the international community reach a solid and effective agreement in Copenhagen in two months' time; an agreement that recognizes the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed two degrees Celsius . We, the BEAC members, need to act urgently, together and with responsibility.
I would like to finish my intervention by recognizing the good work done by the International Barents Secretariat, located in Kirkenes, just across the border with Norway, and by its Director, Ambassador Ignatiev.
We congratulate the Russian Federation for its efforts and dedication throughout its two-year BEAC presidency. We wish a great success to the incoming BEAC presidency, Sweden, who is currently also holding the EU presidency.
Thank you very much.