Dear deputy Minister Director, your excellences, dear partners and friends.
It is a pleasure to attend the sixth Northern Dimension Senior Officials Meeting. I would like to thank Director Mayr Harting and the EEAS for hosting the meeting and bringing The EU, Norway, Russia and Iceland together for important discussions. This is especially timely since we this year mark the 20th anniversary of The Northern Dimension.
Norway and the European Union work closely together to promote our common goal of a peaceful, economically strong and environmentally sustainable Europe. In practice, the EEA Agreement binds us into one single market of unified regulations, to the benefit of citizens and businesses. Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we contribute to reducing social and economic disparities inside the Union. We also align our foreign policy very closely with the EU in key areas, including our common neighborhood. The depth and strength of our partnership with the EU and its member states builds on shared goals and values. We value the EU’s interest and engagement for the northernmost part of Europe and our cooperation in the Arctic.
The world is changing. We need more, not less dialogue. We depend on strong international cooperation to meet today’s challenges. This is Norway’s approach in the Arctic. The Arctic today is a region characterised by peace, stability and international cooperation. This is no coincidence. It is the result of political priorities and hard work. Close collaboration with our Arctic neighbours both between capitals, and through people-to-people contact enables us to pursue common interests and solve cross-border challenges.
I am very pleased to note the presence of Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Pankin here today. Norway and Russia have a broad and longstanding practical day-to-day bilateral cooperation in the Arctic despite sometimes disagreements on other issues. This cooperation includes fisheries, environmental issues like marine littering, nuclear safety, search and rescue, people-to-people contact. Our experience from these bilateral processes inspires and provides useful input to our multilateral cooperation like here in The Northern Dimension.
The cooperation in all the different Northern regional councils will remain key to securing a stable and prosperous Arctic governed by international law. The Barents Council, The Arctic Council, The Council of Baltic Sea States, The Nordic Council - and the Northern Dimension are important tools for constructive dialogue and practical cooperation in the high north. The Norwegian Storting is looking forward to hosting the sixth Northern Dimension parliamentary forum in Bodø, on 18–20 November this year.
Norway is also looking forward to hosting the high level meeting on of the Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics in June. We are looking forward to the evaluation report and appreciate that the European Commission is financing the evaluation. The upcoming High Level Meeting will sum up positive and negative experiences with the partnership and thus help us seek solutions for future collaboration that brings us closer to the objectives of the Partnership.
The Arctic, which is home to 10 % of our population, it remains a top priority for Norway. We are now working on a new white paper on Norway’s Arctic policy. The white paper will be submitted to the Storting in the autumn of 2020. It will outline the Government’s ambitions for a strong and innovative Arctic
We are witnessing growing global interest in the Arctic. The Arctic is regularly on the agenda in Norway’s discussions with a host of countries from all over the world. We value such dialogue. We need to increase global understanding of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and the way global emissions are creating the dramatic changes that we are seeing most vividly in our northernmost areas.
Some of the most dramatic effects of climate change in the Arctic are seen in the oceans. Clean and healthy oceans is crucial for food, for jobs, for energy, and even for the air we breathe. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has therefore taken the initiative to establish a high-level panel of 12 current world leaders for a sustainable ocean economy. Norway will also host the Our Ocean conference in Oslo in October.
Natural resources are the basis of nearly all livelihoods in the north. Key industries in North Norway such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and reindeer husbandry all depend on the natural environment and its resources. It is therefore in our own interest to ensure a knowledge based and sustainable management of all activities in the north.
In October, Norway will assume the chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. This forum has been a cornerstone of regional cooperation in the Arctic since 1993. We will use our chair to continue developing our relationship with our Nordic neighbours, Russia and the EU. We will work for a strong and resilient Barents region with a particular focus on health, people-to-people contact and knowledge. Knowledge is key for sound management of the environment, for competence and education to the benefit of our young generation.
Norway believes that a more systemized cooperation between the Northern Dimension partnerships and Barents structures could be useful, including between working groups and secretariats. This could increase the Northern Dimension's contribution to cooperation in the European Arctic area.
The topics addressed through the partnerships of the Northern Dimension – that is Environment, transport and logistics, health and culture –- are all important for the further development of our region. All four partnerships have contributed to resilient societies in the north.
I would like to especially highlight The Northern Dimension’s Environmental Partnership. Norway has invested close to Euro 17 million in this work, and we have all witnessed impressive results. The projects of removal of spent nuclear fuel from the navy base in Andreyev Bay on the Kola peninsula, and decommissioning of the nuclear ship Lepse, are still ongoing on in close cooperation with Russian authorities. The focus on the impacts of black carbon emissions and other short-lived climate pollutants is also important.
The Northern Dimension partners are a defined group of countries who know each other well. This allows us the possibility to achieve good results. We have made some major achievements.
We must continue this work through a common effort from all four partners. We need sustained political dialogue and will to achieve the results we are aiming for through The Northern Dimension. The 20th anniversary gives us reason to not only look back on the success stories, but also to reflect on lessons learned and what measures should be taken for a stronger Northern Dimension in the future. We therefore look forward to today’s discussions.