Foreign Ministers} Conference on the Northern Dimension
Statement by Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Iceland
Helsinki, 11 and 12 November 1999
Let me start by saying that Iceland welcomes and strongly supports the Northern Dimension of the European Union. The Icelandic Government regards it as a policy framework which could make a substantial contribution to stability and prosperity in Northern Europe. There are clearly many issue areas in Northern Europe that we have common interests in. Therefore we look upon the Northern Dimension as a very positive development and hope to witness an intensified involvement of the European Union in the region.
I would also like to welcome the fact that during the past few months in the run up to this conference, there have been extensive consultations initiated and undertaken by the Finnish Presidency with partner countries of the Northern Dimension. This we have found to be very useful and highly appreciated.
In elaborating our priorities with respect to the Northern Dimension Iceland has mainly focused on issues relating to the environment. We have also ventured to contribute to the process by sponsoring a seminar in Brussels on the 11th of October, on the Environmental Aspects of the Northern Dimension in cooperation with the EU Commission and the Nordic Council of Ministers, with participation from EU member states as well as partner countries and regional organisations.
Some of the countries in the north are not members of the EU but they share similar concerns in many issue areas and not least in the environmental field. In that respect we need to bear in mind that a large part of the pollution in northern areas comes from sources outside of the area. Therefore international cooperation is a prerequisite for addressing this problem field in a successful manner.
We attach high priority to the marine environment which clearly is a subject matter which concerns us all. We do know for a fact that marine pollution especially from land-based activities, is putting increasing pressure on the health of the world}s oceans. There is clearly a need for increased action on this matter at international, regional and national levels. Extensive framework programmes to protect the marine environment have been developed which could serve as useful reference points for the Northern Dimension.
Another issue related to the marine environment but also with much broader implications, is the large number of radioactive sources present in the north. Given the potential risks involved, we are strongly in favour of the ongoing international project cooperation in the Russian part of the Barents region in the field of nuclear safety and radioactive waste management and hope to see that reinforced through the Northern Dimension. This is beyond doubt a matter which affects the interests of the whole region and beyond.
Most northern communities are directly dependent on natural resources and especially vulnerable to environmental change. It follows that the sustainable harvesting of living resources and the preservation of a healthy and productive ecosystem are basic elements in ensuring the survival and prosperity of our communities. Therefore we need to keep in mind the importance of firmly integrating sustainable development within the Northern Dimension.
Iceland presently holds the chair of the Nordic Council of Ministers and in that capacity I would like to inform you that Nordic Ministers for the Environment have studied the proposals of the European Commission on the environment in the Northern Dimension. They welcome the contribution by the commission on this issue and have expressed their support for proposals on short- and medium term actions that they have found to be of specific relevance in view of joint Nordic actions. Among those are investment projects in major hot spots to reduce pollution to the Barents- and Baltic Sea, including waste water treatment in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad and intensified efforts to conclude and implement international agreements on persistent organic pollutants. The Nordic Ministers for the Environment furthermore, expressed their willingness to explore possibilities for concrete support of actions through bilateral participation and with the participation of Nordic financial institutions.
The Northern Dimension can in our view both reinforce and supplement existing arrangements of co-operation in Northern Europe. This includes the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Council of Baltic Sea States both of which have been in the discussion as possible venues for implementation of the Northern Dimension. In addition I would like to make a note on the Arctic Council which especially in the environmental sector is responsible for activities which are covered by the Northern Dimension. It has a well developed environmental program that heavily focuses upon the Northern Dimension region. It may also be noted that it has a transatlantic dimension which should be considered of added value. I would therefore venture to suggest the consideration of establishing a link between the Northern Dimension and the Arctic Council. I am confident that an Arctic Window in the Northern Dimension would benefit from such a linkage.
Allow me conclude by saying that a well focused and implemented Northern Dimension policy can in our view make a significant contribution to closer cooperation in Europe. It can also contribute to the process of developing our communities in such a way as to take fully into account the principles of sustainable development and our struggle to come to grips with environmental pollution.
Foreign Ministers} Conference on the Northern Dimension