Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the 16th ministerial meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC), Arkhangelsk, October 19, 2017
ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to welcome you to the 16th ministerial meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC). It is the fourth time that Russia is hosting BEAC’s ministerial meeting. I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the authorities of the Arkhangelsk Region and the City of Arkhangelsk for a cordial reception.
The Barents Region, the most densely populated and economically developed region in the Arctic, has unique natural resources and major science and innovation capacity, not to mention the experience of cross-border cooperation. Over a period of some 25 years, BEAC has successfully promoted the unification agenda and has won respect as an organisation for international cooperation. It is also a major contributor to the preservation of Northern Europe as a zone of stability and neighbourly relations.
I am sure that the region’s sustainable development and the creation of comfortable conditions for its people must remain among our priorities. We must focus on the use of the region’s rich resource potential, compliance with environmental standards and respect for the interests of indigenous peoples in the Barents Region.
In addition to the above, the priorities of Russia’s BEAC Chairmanship included the development of the transport and logistics infrastructure, environmental protection, adequate responses to climate change, as well as the promotion of cultural and tourist exchanges.
At their meeting in Sortavala, Russia, in November 2015, the BEAC states’ environment ministers praised the countries’ progress in excluding a number of hot spots from the Barents Environmental Hot Spot List. Another important result is the drafting of a new wording of the Action Plan on Climate Change, which we will adopt today.
The BEAC’s transport ministers, who met in Arkhangelsk in June 2016, boosted the drafting of the Joint Barents Transport Plan, which provides for creating 16 cross-border rail, motor and sea routes in the Barents Region. Seven of these routes will run across Russia. It also stipulates the development of air traffic in Northern Europe through the airports of Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, Kirkenes and Tromso.
The modernisation of Murmansk-Nikel-Kirkenes section of the Kola Railway Line, which was completed in September 2017, is a major achievement.
At their meeting in Moscow in November 2016, the BEAC countries’ culture ministers established a biennial Barents Scholarship for young art professionals and creative groups. The first award ceremony will be held today.
Another prospective cooperation area is tourism, where we can attract investment and create new jobs. The decision on a 72-hour visa-free stay in Murmansk, which the Russian Government approved for the passengers of cruise liners in 2016, will help strengthen contacts between people.
The Barents Region is a vast and scarcely populated area with an extreme climate, where the nearest rescue service is often located in a foreign state. In this context, it is vitally important to improve cross-border emergency response interaction. The Barents Rescue Exercises, which were held in Karelia in September 2017, involved some 750 emergency prevention, preparedness and response experts from Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
Overall, Russia organised over 80 events during its chairmanship. We believe that they have helped strengthen coordination between the member states. A major event in this context was the first meeting of delegates from all the main BEAC bodies, including the International Barents Secretariat, as well as the heads of BEAC’s working groups (there are 16 of them, plus nine subgroups), which was held in Moscow in April 2017.
We also highlighted the importance of supporting the small indigenous peoples of the North. In April 2017, Moscow hosted the 1st Barents Indigenous Peoples’ Summit, which aimed to enhance the protection of indigenous peoples’ interests through their dialogue with the authorities. This work must obviously continue and become systemic.
Next year we will celebrate 25 years of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Celebrations are a good opportunity to review achievements and make future plans.
The Russian Chairmanship has proposed establishing a regional high-level forum, a kind of a Barents Davos, as a permanent venue where delegates from the political, business and research communities, as well as journalists, will discuss issues on the Barents agenda. We hope our partners will support this initiative.
A unique element of the Barents process is its two-level structure: interaction proceeds not only between governments, but also between the administrations that are represented in the Barents Regional Council (BRC). This allows us to combine national priorities with the requirements of individual regions in the interests of their people. We highly assess the work of Kainuu, Finland, which chaired the BRC for two years between 2015 and 2017. We call for closer coordination at both levels of cooperation in the Barents Region.
In conclusion, I would like to wish success to Sweden, the country that is assuming chairmanship of BEAC, as well as to Finnmark County, which will chair the Barents Regional Council.
Today's discussion has proven that our cooperation in Northern Europe has good prospects. Our work is progressing in a pragmatic and practical way, which allows us to move forward in various areas of interacting on the ground.
It is heartening that we are pursuing common goals: enhancing the sustainable development of northern territories, improving living standards and developing natural resources without damaging the Arctic environment. It is clear that all these tasks can be addressed only though joint efforts of all participants in the Barents process.
We appreciate the positive response to our initiative to hold the first summit of indigenous peoples. As I have mentioned, I think it would make sense to make it a tradition and a systemic effort. I am certain that during the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council we can introduce a number of other initiatives based on the needs of the people living in the North.
Ms Margot Wallstrom noted that one of the Swedish chairmanship’s priorities will be the youth policy. We have just heard the remarks by Chair of the Barents Regional Youth Council Inna Fyodorova. This segment comprising administrative, territorial and municipal bodies has long coordinated youth programmes. If Sweden makes the decision to implement this at the government level, this is going to be a useful initiative that we will make every effort to support.
Once again, I wish Sweden every success during its chairmanship of the Council and look forward to Finnmark’s achievements in the Barents Regional Council.
Thank you for your attention. I pass the chairmanship symbol to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom.