Materializing cross border co-operation in the North

Written by Markus Karlsen, former chair of the Barents Regional Committee and former head of the International Barents Secretariat

The Barents co-operation has been close to my heart for a very long time, established in 1993 in Kirkenes, the co-operation engulfed a range of areas for co-operation e.g. transport, tourism, environment, education, youth, culture, health, rescue to mention some.

The participants of this co-operation «recognized the features characteristic of this arctic region, especially its harsh climate, sparse population and vast territory. They agreed therefore to examine how they can improve the conditions for local cooperation between local authorities, institutions, industry and commerce across the borders of the region».

A unique aspect of this co-operation was the fact that the co-operation took place on an equal measure both on a national and on a regional level. Through the Barents co-operation I have been privileged to meet and get to know many colleagues with just as strong if not stronger commitment to the co-operation. All seing the sturdy usefulness of coming together discussing common opportunities and challenges and how to meet them. Opportunities such as an abundance of natural resources including minerals, forests, fish, energy and so on. We also share many challenges such as harsh climate, long distances within the region as well as to outside markets. We are also very sparsely populated, increasing the importance of getting together to exchange ideas and experiences.

An achillees heel in the Barents co-operation has been funding. For the co-operation to be effective, one would need a financial instrument that could fund and thus operationalize the co-operation. In this regard, Kolarctic CBC became very important. Encompassing more or less the same geographical area as the Barents Co-operation, Kolarctic CBC became crucial for funding concrete projects in the different sectors.

One example is the Joint Barents Transport Plan that came to light in 2013. With its biannual renewal, funding was needed in order to operationalize the plan. Here, Kolarctic CBC played a crucial role in providing this.

This is also a prime example of how different international co-operation mechanisms are well co-ordinated and complements each other, how political decisions are being implemented due to funding and thus providing tangible results thanks to Kolarctic CBC.

So, Kolarctic CBC, thank you for being such a strong supporter of the Barents co-operation.