Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Conference on the Northern Dimension

Conference on the Northern Dimension, Luxembourg, 21 October 2002

Halldor Asgrimsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Chairman of the Arctic Council

Mr. Chairman
Let me begin by thanking the Danish EU Presidency for convening this conference on the Northern Dimension. We appreciate this opportunity to contribute to the discussion on the further development of the Northern Dimension. We have from the outset welcomed and supported this very important policy framework and look forward to the presentation of a new Action Plan.

The guidelindes for the new Action Plan are complex and we note the emphasis placed on developing cross border co-operation between the EU and Russia. We should also bear in mind that in the Arctic many opportunities exist for increased co-operation.

In its capacity as chair of the Arctic Council, Iceland notes with appreciation the references to the Arctic in the guidelines for the new Action Plan. The new Action Plan is intended to give adequate responses to the Arctic and promote sustainable development in the Arctic region, looking to the needs of indigenous peoples of the high north. We are particularly pleased to see the envisaged role of regional organisations, such as the Arctic Council, in the implementation of the new Action Plan. Linking EU policies with regional initiatives should be beneficial for both parties. I also take note of the intention to mainstream Arctic themes in all relevant aspects of the Northern Dimension activities.

Developments in the Arctic are, and should be, of increasing significance for the European Union. In this respect I would like to mention the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Its goal is to assess the impact of climate change across ecosystems, communities and socio-economic activities in the Arctic. Preliminary results indicate that climate change in the Arctic can be a sign of what may happen in other parts of the world in a few decades.

There are numerous opportunities for mutually beneficial co-operations between the Arctic Council and the European Union in the field of environment and research. Recently the Council published its Second status report "Arctic Pollution 2002". It confirmed the observation that persistent toxic substances constitute a specific threat to human health and wildlife in some parts of the Arctic. Further research is needed, including on the effect of contaminants on animals and human health in the Arctic. Some sources of persistent organic pollutants and manmade mercury are located in the Northern Dimension area. The new Action Plan should help to eliminate such hot spots and thus also contribute to the implementation of the Stockholm Convention and relevant UN-ECE instruments. I appreciate that the proposed guidelines recognize these challenges.

The key priorities of the guidelines that have been presented are in many ways complementary to the priorities of Iceland as chair of the Arctic Council. During our chairmanship we wish to further develop the role of the Arctic Council in relation to the social and economic aspects of sustainable development, first and foremost the well-being of the people in the Arctic region. In our effort to strengthen the work of the Arctic Council in these areas an extensive report on human development, the Arctic Human Development Report will be produced. This will be the most comprehensive assessment to date on human conditions in the Arctic. Furthermore, we have identified information technology as an important tool for advancing the human dimension in the Arctic. During its chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Iceland will organise an international conference on information technology in the Arctic. We also feel that there could be value added in strengthening co-operation of those involved in research in the Arctic. During its chairmanship, Iceland offers to host the annual meeting of organisations and institutions involved in international research co-operation in the Arctic, a so called Arctic Science Summit Week.

The aim of our work, both within the priority areas of the Northern Dimension and within the regional organisations, such as the Arctic Council, should be to enhance environmental sustainability and sound cross-border economic and social development in the north. Close co-operation between the EU and regional organisations is necessary to achive this goal and therefore efforts should be made to enhance this co-operation.

As chair of the Arctic Council, Iceland welcomes the opportunity to participate in these discussions and we look forward to increased co-opearation with the EU in areas of common interests.


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