19 January 1998
Statement at the 5th Ministerial Session of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC)
H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iceland
Allow me to begin by expressing our appreciation of the very positive and constructive manner in which Sweden has been leading our work over the past year.
Within a surprisingly short time span, the situation in the Barents Region has undergone a dramatic change, as regards co-operation over the national borders. Less than a decade ago, the region was mostly a closed area, under the spell of military secrecy and mutual distrust. Eased contacts between East and West, and constantly growing activities involving a number of international bodies, have created an entirely new atmosphere. During its 5 years of existence, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, together with the Regional Council, has made a valuable contribution to this favourable development.
All of us would have liked to see our co-operation develop faster -- and be more productive. But we have to be realistic and admit that we are engaged in a long-term process. Rather than lamenting what we have not, as yet, been able to accomplish, let us rejoice over the results obtained -- modest as they may be.
Most importantly, security has been significantly enhanced in this -- for many decades -- particularly sensitive flank of Europe.
Some of the more serious environmental problems have been taken under scrutiny by our experts. This includes the threat posed by the irresponsible dumping of radioactive waste in the past. An action aiming at bringing pollution problems under control has been begun. The cleanliness of our oceans is particularly important, taking into account that they provide a considerable proportion of mankind}s food requirements. Marine pollution is caused mostly by landbased sources. This illustrates the linkage between land, sea and air pollution. The problems can only be successfully dealt with as a whole. A determined comprehensive effort is imperative. -- I wish to declare our full support for the sensible recommendations agreed by our Environment Ministers at their Third Council Meeting in St. Petersburg last October.
The preparatory work undertaken in the field of energy has been productive. The proposed Action Plan on Improvement of the Energy Situation in the Barents Region deserves our full endorsement. Icelandic experts have expressed their willingness to share their experience and to participate in energy projects. The establishment of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Energy to supervise the implementation of the Plan has our support.
Iceland has contributed to the modernisation of the fishing industry in the Barents Region and will continue to do so. Further steps are also being taken to strengthen trade relations with the area. Technological innovations and enhanced trade are, here as elsewhere, among the most efficient ways of bringing about economic progress. The very useful Comprehensive Study on Trade Barriers shows the way forward in dealing with current problems impeding normal trade relations in the area.
Further economic development will also depend largely on the implementation of projects in the field of land, sea and air transport. We are, for our part, not least interested in the ongoing study of the possibilities to make more use of the Northern Sea Route for transport of goods. Increasing exploitation of natural resources in the northern regions of Russia will call for a strengthening of the transportation capacity. This applies not only to maritime transport to Asia or Western Europe, but also across the Atlantic where Iceland}s geographic location may play a supportive role.
Matters relating to sustainable development and environmental protection in northern regions are dealt with in more than one forum. The benefits of co-operation and co-ordination between, for example, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council, must be realised to the greatest possible extent -- to avoid duplication of work and unnecessary costs.
Looking ahead, the possibilities of greater success in our co-operation are certainly there. The constantly wider understanding of the various problems, standing in the way of a more rapid progress in the Barents area, holds out a promise that we may gradually be moving into a higher gear. Reinforced contacts with financial institutions over the past year increase the likelihood of priority projects reaching the stage of implementation. The strengthening of the Northern Dimension, so convincingly advocated by Finland, as well as the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States and the Russian Federation, which came into force on 1st December last, will also without any doubt bring further vitality to our co-operation.
In conclusion, Madame Chairman, may I repeat my thanks to you -- and at the same time express our sincere wishes for an ever-increasing prosperity and wellbeing of the people of the Barents region. I would also like to wish my Norwegian colleague all possible success in their exercise of the Chairmanship in the year to come.
19 January 1998