Northern partnership on equal terms

The Northern Dimension has become a partnership through which Norway, Iceland, the EU and Russia cooperate on an equal footing. Through the establishment of an Interparliamentary Forum, national parliaments are vying for a greater say.

15/03/2007 ::

CHALLENGES UP NORTH: The new agreement on the Northern Dimension shows the determination of the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland to work together to resolve the problems facing the northernmost regions of the European continent.

In November 2006 Helsinki witnessed the birth of a new and common platform for what is commonly called “The Northern Dimension”. Meeting in the wintry surroundings of the Finnish capital the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland agreed to launch a far-reaching cooperation on tackling common challenges in the North. On March 13th the four parties convened in Moscow to constitute a steering group for the New Northern Dimension.

The European Parliament recently hosted a conference on the Northern Dimension, which saw the launch of an Interparliamentary Forum for the Northern Dimension, the goal of which is to ensure the participation of existing interparliamentary constellations in policy making within the Northern Dimension framework. Such forums as the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Barents Council and the Arctic Council all take part in setting the agenda for the northernmost parts of the planet.

The Northern Dimension began its life as a strategic concept in EU external policy towards Russia and the Baltic countries. Following the 2004 accession of 10 new member states and the consequent encircling of the Baltic sea by new EU member states Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the Northern Dimension took on a mixed character, blurring the line between internal and external EU policies. The 2004 enlargement dramatically extended the Union’s common border with Russia. Accordingly, the Northern Dimension increasingly came to be seen in terms of bilateral relations between Brussels and Moscow.

Four-party cooperation

The New Northern Dimension framework currently emerging is a cooperation between four parties. Following the Helsinki summit last autumn, Norway and Iceland have joined the framework as equal partners to their bigger counterparts to the South and East. The inclusion of Europe’s two northernmost countries implies an expansion in the geographical scope of the cooperation, from revolving around the Baltic sea to include the Arctic and Barents seas, politically and economically important to these latter entrants.

”The Northern Dimension is unique in the sense that it is the only comprehensive multilateral European arena that focuses on cooperation in the north. With the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland all engaged as partners in this endeavour, we have an excellent basis for an active European policy towards Northern Europe and the High North. We now have a common platform for facing the challenges and opportunities in this vast geographical area”, Norwegian secretary of state for foreign affairs Liv Monica Stubholt said in her conference address.

Vice President of the European Parliament Diane Wallis was the host of the conference taking place in the Parliament’s plenary chamber in Brussels on Wednesday February 28th and Thursday March 1st, making Wallis something of a midwife for the Interparliamentary Forum that came out of the conference. The UK liberal democrat MEP is a former head of the European Parliament’s delegation to the EFTA countries (i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland)  and as such is familiar with the challenges and opportunities particular to the Northern region.

In addition to the Europeans, delegates from both the United States and Canada were present at the conference. Thanks to their membership in the Arctic and Barents councils, the North Americans are indirectly affiliated with the Northern Dimension framework through the Interparliamentary Forum.

Something old, something new

Among the priorities of the new partnership is laying down concrete policies to fill the four “common spaces” between the EU and Russia. These include economic development, justice and home affairs, external security as well as research, education and culture.

”The Northern Dimension will now become a regional expression of the EU/Russia common spaces. Its policy will be a cross-cutting topic and a tool where appropriate for the implementation of the road maps for the Common Spaces with full participation of Iceland and Norway in matters relevant to Northern Dimension. This is important for Norway. We look forward to cooperating with the EU and Russia in this context”, secretary of state Stubholt emphasised at the conference.

With a New Northern Dimension emerging, the delegates present nevertheless agreed the most successful aspects of the current cooperation would be continued. Several speakers addressed the possible advantages of extending the so-called partnership model, which has made great progress especially within the fields of environmental protection and medical cooperation, to such areas as transport and infrastructure as well as energy and energy saving.

Click here for a transcript of secretary of state for foreign affairs Stubholt’s conference address.

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