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The EU's Role in Northern Europe

The EU's Role in Northern Europe

"Stockholm Conference on Baltic Sea Security and Cooperation: The EU's Role in Northern Europe", Remarks by Jaakko Blomberg Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland, November 20,1998.

The European Union is assuming in Northern Europe a role that corresponds to its international responsibilities and overall resources. The initiative of a Northern Dimension will bring the role of the Union in the transformation and unification of the region into political focus and under strategic assessment.

The Northern Dimension for the common policies of the Union is presently being developed by the European Commission in an interim report to be submitted for the next month European Council in Vienna. As a strategy of stability and cooperation, the Northern Dimension will guide and shape the activities of the Union in promoting transition, supporting enlargement and building further partnership with Russia.

Two parallel developments have given rise to the Finnish initiative for the Northern Dimension.

First, the enlargement of the European Union is restructuring Northern Europe in a major way. The memberships of Finland and Sweden have brought about a natural presence in the North and a common border between the Union and Russia. The future accession of the Baltic States and Poland will further emphasize the interface of the Union and Russia as neighbors in the Baltic Sea region.

Second, the geo-economic balance of Russia is shifting to Europe, and in particular towards the Northwest. The future sources of the stabilization and reconstruction of the Russian economy will be increasingly found in this direction.

Looking at the North of Europe, we face both opportunities and problems for which international cooperation is indispensable. In essence, the enhancement of EU policies is called for by the prospects of enlargement and the future of EU-Russia cooperation. Although some issues relate to the short term, the main focus should be the medium and long term. The key word is interdependence.

The interdependence between Russia and the rest of Europe is emphasized in the Baltic Sea region. Russia is today more dependent than ever before on income generated through exports to Europe. The EU will remain Russia's largest trading partner and the main export market for its natural resources.

Europe will be, in the near future, more dependent on Russian energy reserves, particularly natural gas. The gas reserves of the Barents Sea and Northwest Russia form a strategic reserve for Europe. The growing demand of natural gas will in the coming decades be satisfied by increased imports from these areas.

The agenda of cooperation extends beyond energy to include natural resources in general, the protection of environment, in particular nuclear safety, transport and infrastructure as well as the management of borders to serve growing human and business contacts. As president Ahtisaari noted in a speech in St. Petersburg a month ago, "the EU and Finland are prepared to support Russia in developing a modern customs service meeting European standards".

The ongoing integration of Poland and the Baltic States to the EU leads to a rapid harmonization of their legislation with the Union. The adoption of the EU acquis by the western neighbors of Russia will gradually shift the existing normative divide in economic life to the Russian border. The only way to prevent a new fault line is to speed up Russia's transition through an efficient implementation of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the EU and Russia.

The current economic crisis in Russia is a setback for international cooperation and may slow down progress on this agenda. Yet, it does not prove our approach wrong.

One of the aims of the enhanced common policies of the EU is to help the applicant countries to adapt to their status at the interface of expanding co-operation between the Union and Russia. The benefits of interdependence will support the efforts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to consolidate and normalize their relations with Russia.

In considering the medium and long term prospects, the weight of the Northern Dimension is seen the situation where Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will be members in the Union. It is this Union in partnership with Russia that we should have in mind when assessing the current issues and instruments.

The Baltic Sea region is where the effects of EU-Russian co-operation will be the most tangible. Trade flows and future energy networks between the EU and Russia will principally pass through the Baltic Sea region. Currently, over forty percent of the Russian maritime trade uses Baltic sea routes out of which by far the main part is handled by ports in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Finnish initiative does not cover only Russia and the accession countries of the Baltic Sea region. We see important tasks in the international cooperation that over the past decade has been focused on the Arctic challenges, concerns as well as opportunities. Here, all the countries adjoining the Arctic and those with historical connections with it are partners.

The Finnish initiative has been well received by the partners inside the Union and within the accession process as well as by Russia and the Nordic neighbors Norway and Iceland. The increased interest of the United States, exemplified in the Northern Europe Initiative, will serve the same overall purpose of peaceful change in the region.

The Northern Dimension will translate into co-operation, stability and prosperity in the Baltic Sea region and the whole of Europe. There is political dynamics at sight that will promote the initiative.

Far from scratching from start, the initiative builds upon the existing Union instruments and international institutions involved. The aim is not to seek new funds for the Northern purposes but invigorate and better coordinate the existing policies. The value added that the initiative is seeking is to be found through political focus and effective planning and coordination.

As a concept and policy, the Northern Dimension will help the European Union to identify and operationalize its joint interests. Moreover, the implementation of the pre-accession relationship with the Baltic States and Poland and the forward-looking partnership with Russia will provide a political momentum to the practical work on the ground.

A similar political momentum will be created by the growing realization by Russia of the benefits and responsibilities of its partnership and, indeed, neighborhood with the European Union. Undoubtedly, the intensified and purposeful profile of the European Union under the Northern Dimension strategy will affect the Russian perceptions of what the Union is and what it can provide in partnership and cooperation.

© 1998 Virtual Finland


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).