I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to work with the Barents Cooperation for such a long time. I have seen places and met people that I would never have done if it was not for this cooperation. Visiting small Karelian villages and finding out that the lives of local villagers are quite similar to my own upbringing in my small village in Västerbotten has made quite an impression on me.
Going King Crab fishing outside of the Norwegian coast and ice fishing in Sweden have also been exciting experiences. I think that the best personal memories I have is experiencing things together with others and getting to know each other outside of meeting rooms. So, I think that the best thing about the Barents region are the people, as they share many similarities despite their different nationalities.
Strong traditions, new directions
The long-lasting cooperation with Russia is among the main achievements of the Barents Cooperation, before this we knew hardly anything about our neighboring regions! Despite occasional disagreements at the national level between our countries, this regional cooperation has continued and prospered during the years. We have built on a strong potential provided by vast natural resources, high-quality education and research, rich cultures, and a long tradition of cooperation.
It is also important to stress is that cooperation between the regional and the national levels has evolved during the years. When stakeholders from national, regional, and local levels together with Indigenous peoples and the youth sit at the same table, it creates a unique environment and spirit.
I believe we need Barents Cooperation also in the future to continue building bridges between our countries and to better cooperate across national borders. We have so much in common and we need to develop our relations even more.
Strength in unity
Västerbotten has enjoyed a close connection with all Working Groups, not only those associated with the Regional Council. Together we have achieved a lot of digital activities such as webinars, meetings, workshops, and more. A well-functioning working group structure is vital in ensuring a future strong and relevant Barents Cooperation characterized by both dynamism and substance. The interplay between the national and the regional level is the most defining feature of the Barents Cooperation that has made it such a success.
To strengthen and make sure the activities under the Working Groups are well coordinated, we think that combining their national and regional counterparts is essential. We also strive to make all Working Group Chairs follow the national and the regional chairmanships in the Barents Cooperation. This would mean that they are better connected to the ongoing chairmanships in benefit of all parties.
Merging the Working Groups will also bring the regional and the national experts in specific fields closer together, creating the ideal conditions for a more innovative environment. This is a process that needs to take some time and we are confident that the incoming regional chair Nenets and national chair Finland will continue this work.
The outcomes of cooperation
The Norwegian and Västerbotten chairmanships did not turn out the way that we planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we have adapted to the situation and found other ways to meet and cooperate. We have developed new forms of interactions - we do not always need to travel long distances to meet anymore, and my feeling is that we can meet more often when we meet online, while getting higher participation from all stakeholders.
I am proud of the close cooperation we have had with the Norwegian Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) Chair, with whom we have done almost all activities. I think that we have strengthened the national and the regional cooperation to a level that has not been seen before. We have also had a close cooperation with the International Barents Secretariat (IBS) and are very pleased with the assistance that we got during our chairmanship.
Already before our chairmanships we had close contact with Norway, meaning that our chairmanship programs have had a lot of things in common. One such area has been E-Health, which turned out to be a very relevant topic. Together with the Joint Working Group on Health and Social Issues we successfully conducted a seminar on E-Health in December last year.
Gender equality is another important issue for our chairmanship. Together with the Ombudsman of Human Rights and the Consulate General of Sweden in Saint Petersburg we have started the joint Equal Barents project. I am very pleased for the positive welcome this project has got and the big interest for the webinars that we have held Children’s health is another topic that we have highlighted with a seminar and a study that is going on right now. I am looking forward to what comes out of that study.
Transport and environment are also highly relevant issues for the Swedish Barents regions, Västerbotten therefore took part in a study on green transport. At the same time, the Norwegian Barents regions conducted a concept study on Intelligent Transport Solutions. Together we collaborated on a report proposing rest areas for heavy traffic.
Västerbotten also supported the Norwegian Chairmanship in developing the upcoming Barents Financial Mechanism. Launching this mechanism is maybe one of the biggest things that has happened in the Barents Cooperation in recent years. This initiative will enable the Working Groups and other stakeholders to finance their activities and make full use of the region's investment potential.