Northern Dimension and the Arctic Window
Conference in Greenland, 27-29 August 2002
Halldor Asgrimsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iceland
Let me begin by thanking the Danish EU Presidency and the Greenland Home Rule Governement for convening this conference on the Northern Dimension and the Arctic Window. We highly 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. We believe that the Northern Dimension can be a crucial contribution to issues of common concern in northern areas.
The North Pole is as good a symbol as any for international cooperation as there the parallel lines of the longitudes finally converge. The phrase goes "East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet", but they do ... at the North Pole. Greenland is defined in some textbooks as part of the North-American landmass but culture and history attach it to Europe. I therefore welcome the initiative of Greenland to open up an Arctic window in the Northern Dimension emphasising that the North is not just the outskirts or the periphery but a meeting place and a centre.
The Northern region is the EU's geographical link with the Russian Federation and, is as such, important for the co-operation between the EU and RF. I agree that much remains to be done to develop cross border co-operation with Russia and can see the need to make that a priority in the new Action plan. But we should not forget the North-American aspect, as the Prime Minister of Greenland clearly stated. The Arctic Council is one forum where this can be discussed.
The Arctic region as a whole is a region of great natural resources with considerable human and economic potential. Sparsely populated as it is, and lacking infrastructure, the area has great potential that can best be tapped into if we all work together. It is part of the global heritage that we, the countries represented here, have a duty to develop. Developments in the Arctic have an increasing significance for the European Union and these developments also relate closely to the Northern Dimension's priorities. In this respect I could mention the environment, energy, nuclear safety and telecommunications.
This autumn Iceland assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council for the next two years. The Arctic Council has done groundbreaking work in monitoring and assessing the state of the Arctic environment. The Council is the forum of the arctic nations to strengthen the riches that the area harbours, both in the form of natural resources and human resources and to promote sustainable development. With this collaboration we have to look to the opportunities the region has to offer. The key to the solution of various problems is successful social and economic development and a positive adjustment to the arctic region's natural environment.
Regional organisations actively involved in northern issues, in particular the Arctic Council, the Council of Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, are engaged in work related to many topics covered by the Feira action plan. We note that the possible role of regional organisations, as envisaged in the action plan, relates to the identification of common interests and definition of priorities. Linking regional initiatives with EU policies is thus becoming more and more preferable. This can best be done by more active and prominent role of the EU in the Arctic Council as stated bu Finland, Greenland and Diana Wallis from the European Parliament.
The aim of our work, both within the priority areas of the Northern Dimension and within the regional organisations, such as those that I mentioned, should be to enhance environmental sustainability and sound crossborder economic and social development in the north to secure prosperity for its people and peaceful co-operation across boundaries.
It is time to go ahead with new initiatives under the Danish Presidency during the next months. The intention to consider the contents of the Arctic Window of the Northern Dimension at this conference offers a unique oppertunity to develop an Arctic Agenda of the EU. Iceland offers its support to Denmark and Greenland in this endeavour.
Northern Dimension and the Arctic Window