22 November 200511:15

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the Ministerial Meeting on the Northern Dimension, Brussels, November 21, 2005


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Unofficial translation from Russian

Esteemed colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am glad to have this opportunity today jointly with you to start a renewed initiative, conceived as a means to deepen interaction between Russia, the European Union, Norway and Iceland. The Northern Dimension will encompass an extensive geographical zone from the Arctic to areas adjoining the southern part of the Baltic Sea, from Iceland and Greenland to the northwest of Russia. By virtue of this alone it appears to be a unique format of international regional cooperation.

Our generally favorable attitude to the Northern Dimension policy, launched by the European Union in 1999, is well known. At the same time, at the early stages of its formation and implementation a lot of questions arose about the degree of consideration of Russia's interests, including the practical interests of our regions. We criticized the colleagues from the EU, but did that constructively in such a way as not to hinder the Northern Dimension, but try and optimize it, make it a truly effective and valuable instrument for equal regional interaction. Not everything succeeded in this regard and it can be said that the Northern Dimension had essentially become an "umbrella" under which the projects being realized as part of other programs were artificially being pulled.

The task of reforming the Northern Dimension has successfully been moved off dead center only in the current year as a result of the intensive and systematic expert work, aimed at finding an optimal balance of interests. The aim was set in quite ambitious terms: not to try to do any cosmetic repairs to the dilapidated building, but to construct it actually anew on a new, more solid foundation. We had to struggle for a while also, but in the end the mutual leaning towards cooperation played a decisive role.

The document which we are today to approve, Guidelines for Elaborating a Political Declaration and a Framework Political Document for the Northern Dimension Starting in 2007, differs radically from its predecessors. We are satisfied with the fact that many of our priorities and basic approaches are reflected in it.

We welcome the stronger understanding in the EU today that Russia is a key Northern Dimension participant. Very important is the pivotal idea of the document: the transformation of the Northern Dimension into a common policy for Russia, the European Union, and Norway and Iceland, which are not its members.

The acceptance of the Guidelines for the Northern Dimension will provide conditions for the sustained development of this program in the coming years. On this basis we will be working out new documents. A working group is being formed to carry out day-to-day interaction. I think it would be logical to include in it our experts who were directly working out the Guidelines. One of the tasks for them next year will be the preparation of agreed-upon proposals on priority projects, on whose implementation it would be possible to embark immediately.

The Northern Dimension is seen as a common possession and a common instrument for all its participants. It must be fully integrated into partner relations between Russia and the EU. Accordingly, it cannot be viewed in isolation from the general context of the Russia-EU relationship, in particular from the roadmaps approved in May of this year for the four common spaces. We also take the Northern Dimension as a regional embodiment of the global partnership between Russia and the European Union. Thus, all the prerequisites exist for the Northern Dimension to become a significant element of regional cooperation by Russia with the countries of the European Union and its institutions.

It is aimed at a greater dovetailing of the efforts of the northern regional organizations (Council of the Baltic Sea States, Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Arctic Council, and so on), the reduction of duplication in their activities, and the optimal utilization of available resources. Each of the listed sub-regional structures has its own experience, a definite history and a definite agenda. They can well find their niches in the changing architecture of regional cooperation with the launching of the renewed Northern Dimension. We must jointly do so that the Northern Dimension does not dissolve them in itself, but facilitate the effective solution of the tasks before them.

As far as the long-term Northern Dimension thrusts and projects are concerned, I shall emphasize, first of all, economics, trade and investment, business interaction, energy, transport and communications. We regard science, education, social security and healthcare, as well as the environment and nuclear safety as a major component of the Dimension and similarly rank contacts between people.

A couple of words about the environmental partnership already being implemented under the Northern Dimension. This business project was from the outset predicated on an equal, balanced basis, which the Russian side has consistently been favoring. The experience in environmental partnership merits the closest attention in further work.

As to the partnership in healthcare and social security, we have invariably shown our principled interest in its development as one of the most promising areas in the framework of the Northern Dimension. But reforms are needed here in order to raise effectiveness and real dividends. I will not go into detail: our position was repeatedly voiced in the course of contacts at the expert level. We hope that this Partnership too will now "get on its feet."

As to financing for the Northern Dimension, we understand that, starting in 2007, the main role on the part of the EU in this field will be played by the new European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument. At the same time, I consider it necessary to stress that this situation does not imply the extension to Russia's regions or the Russian Federation as a whole of the European Neighborhood Policy or any mechanisms of its realization. Our position is that the principal instrument for implementing the Northern Dimension projects will be a future model of financial cooperation between Russia and the EU after the expiration of the TACIS program in 2007. I think we shall be able to jointly find appropriate forms of interaction which to a greater extent than TACIS would correspond to the level and dynamism of the strategic partnership between Russia and the European Union.

In conclusion I want to address you as the minister of foreign affairs of the country presiding over the Arctic Council. This organization with broad geographic coverage maintains stable ties with the European regional organizations in the North, and has much in common with them; the Arctic Council sees in the CEC an important long-term partner. We hope for the Arctic Council and CEC to be able to determine specific programs of cooperation.

In general, we have quite a few multilateral formats at our disposal. The question is one of their effective utilization, and the Northern Dimension should help us here.

Thank you for your attention.

November 22, 2005

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